Higher Education, Agriculture, and Research


For the last year, I’ve been (loosely) involved in the Illini Chapter of Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. My initial membership was thanks to sponsorship from Warren Clark at CCI Marketing, a Chicagoland based firm that specializes in marketing materials in agriculture. While my involvement has been very limited and difficult to manage at a distance, I’ve tried to stay involved and in-the-loop. Recently, I had the chance to go to my first in-person meeting of the ACT chapter at the University of Illinois.

Before going to the meeting itself, I met up with a friend of mine who is studying business and accounting at U of I. Collin and I have been friends for years, and he’s always said that if I came to U of I he’d give me a tour. So, despite the temperature being in the lower 20’s and the wind being downright vicious, Collin took me on a tour of the campus. One of the last stops we made before returning to the building where my meeting was the Morrow Plots.

To anyone in ag, the term “plots” generally means a piece of land set aside for crop research. Well, the Morrow Plots are the oldest working research plots in North America. Collin, despite NOT being in ag, knew that I’d love to see something like this…even if it was just a patch of plowed land in the middle of a university campus. (Yeah, even my non-ag friends know how much I love working in and around agriculture!)

The best I could do in the freezing cold with high winds after dark was a crooked, cut-off picture of the sign by the gate to the plots.

There were some interesting educational signs near the plots, and despite the cold wind and the fact that we’d been walking around for about an hour, we stopped and read them. I was impressed, and it really got me thinking. This little plot of land, less than an acre in size, had been used for researching crop production since before many modern practices were even thought of. Many of the innovations that led us to where we are today probably started with ideas that were cultivated in these soils.

A lot of the cutting-edge research that leads us down the path of innovation happens on college campuses. Every day, students do research on agricultural best practices, optimization of results, and the environmental impact of agriculture. Every day, the industry changes because of these discoveries, and everyday we move further down the road of advancement. Students are not the only ones on campuses that are to thank. For every major research project going on at an ag school, there is a team of professors, advisors, and administrators who are somehow involved. They guide, encourage, and push these students to excel, test their boundaries, and question existing ideas.

This research goes beyond simple row crop innovation, as well. My friend Jesse Bussard is getting her Masters at University of Kentucky. Jesse’s formal degree is in crop sciences, but her area of focus is actually the relationship between soil, plant, and animal in agriculture. A brief look at her blog will show that she’s incredibly committed to her field of study. She even features a weekly post called “Weedy Wednesday” where she highlights different types of weeds and another titled “Forage Facts” that features different topics related to forages. At the University of Kentucky, she is doing research on the physiological effects of fescue toxicosis in beef cattle. This syndrome, caused by a fungus that resides in the tall fescue plant that produces toxic ergot alkaloids, leads to reduced animal performance in cattle. The results of her study could impact the ways that experts approach the way they recommend farmers and ranchers manage cattle on tall fescue pastures in the South Central US. Jesse is a fantastic example of students living and breathing their passions, and channeling that passion into something that can influence and benefit the world around them. (Thank you to Jesse for making sure this portion was accurate! It’s much-appreciated!)

Long story short, higher education campuses are a pretty awesome place to find some breakthrough ideas. It doesn’t just happen in agriculture, either.

Over the last few years, my roommate has participated in studies to see the ways in which outward perception of an individual can influence human resource decisions for a business. Her research garnered some highly-acclaimed feedback at regional, national, and international psychology conferences. She has spent time expanding and building upon her research, and will be having it published in some well-renowned journals in the coming months. It’s amazing to think that the students I interact with today, could shape up to be tomorrow’s innovators. The research that these people do in the here and now is just a stepping stone to greater things in the future.

So my question to you is this: have you kept up-to-date with research happening in the educational communities you’re involved in? What research have you been watching? And what research would you like to see more of? Share your insights and stories on educational research, in agriculture and in other areas of study. The work that these ambitious students do NOW can impact all of us in the future. Are you ready to see the changes they’ll bring?

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