by George Looby
A recent issue of the Financial Partner, a publication of Farm Credit East, summarized the research activities at some of the colleges of agriculture in its service area. Research has long been one of the major activities of these institutions but too often the work they do goes unrecognized.
Getting the word out to the general population about these activities has been difficult at times, both from a lack of interest and the huge number of other topics that everyone is exposed to on a daily basis. Let a major dire event occur in the food chain and quickly the consumer is looking for immediate answers to the problem. Romaine lettuce did not suddenly become contaminated on its own; it took many hours of investigation and research to finally identify the probable cause.
There have been many pieces of legislation passed throughout the course of this nation’s history that have had a lasting impact. One of these is the Morrill Act, which was passed into law July 2, 1862 in the early months of the Civil War. Given the pressures on Congress at that time it is remarkable that such a forward-looking piece of legislation could have found its way through that body. Among its provisions was one that stipulated that each state establish a college where the leading object would be to teach subjects related to agriculture and the mechanic arts. The results of this legislation are evident almost everywhere for those involved in any area of agriculture. Each of the schools is able to meet the needs of its particular region quickly with a good understanding of the needs of its particular area.
Each school must meet the needs of its student population, provide extension support to those actively engaged in production and conduct research to address current needs and look forward in anticipation of solving issues that are still on the horizon. Outlining all the responsibilities of a college of agriculture takes input from department chairs and all those reporting to them being firmly convinced that their section should receive the highest possible priority when funding is allocated. At this point reality checks in, funding is in short supply and setting priorities is a difficult task.
The dairy industry has long been a victim of its own efficiencies, producing more product than the market can absorb, having no control over the price they receive for their product. There are too many well-bred cows receiving balanced rations in environments designed to maximize their comfort. That may be somewhat simplistic, but when production per cow can double in 40 years, somebody is doing something right. For answers to this issue economists, nutritionists and geneticists are all working to find answers. Cornell University is working on a new fermented dairy beverage that will hopefully appeal to the millennial generation. Researchers at Cornell are also working to develop good eating habits in youngsters by exploring ways to make eating vegetables more appealing.
Consumers in the northeast are showing an ever-increasing preference for locally grown produce and with this emerging market comes ever increasing risks. The Extension Service at Rutgers University is providing producer guidance on how to ensure visitor safety and how to respond to an accident or other adverse event. It can be something of a revelation to discover what some researchers are pursuing to open new opportunities for those they serve. Rutgers, for example, is working on hazelnut breeding. Hazelnuts cannot be grown east of the Mississippi River, primarily due to its lack of cold hardiness and its susceptibility to Eastern filbert blight. There seems to be a latent demand for this crop so plant breeders developing an adapted variety could be a definite plus.
Craft breweries have emerged all over the Northeast and the end is not yet in sight. One of the critical ingredients of beer is barley malt, much of which is imported from the Northwest. Developing one or more varieties adapted to the Northeast would be an advantage from many perspectives. Cornell workers are actively engaged in satisfying this need.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut are engaged in trials that will allow them to make recommendations regarding the best species of turf grass to use that will maximize the uptake of CO2 from that atmosphere, taken through the root system and deposited in the soil. This effect will contribute to overall air quality and contribute in its own way to decreasing global warming. UConn has long been recognized as a leader in all phases of poultry research, and one of the topics under study at this time is the impact that salmonella has on egg and poultry production. Poultry may be harboring the organism without showing any outward signs or symptoms. It is a bacterial disease that has been treated with antibiotics for several decades but today alternative methods have been imposed upon the industry by regulations that have strict sanctions on the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. Among the products being evaluated at this time are phytochemicals, which are natural plant extracts.
The impact of this research is yet to be realized. When fully developed, some may play a major role in the betterment of a particular area while others may fall quietly by the wayside. Once a new technology has been established and found to meet a need previously unmet, it is the job of the Extension Services at each of the universities to ensure that the new information is disseminated among their client base who can then put it into practice. It is only then that the stamp of approval will be put on a new technique, practice or recommendation.
Research at land grant universities
by George Looby