Building on Tennessee’s Agricultural Heritage
This summer I was in Crossville for a field day at the UT Plateau AgResearch and Education Center when I overheard a UT Extension agent giving a presentation to local farmers and ranchers about pond water.
Pond water, it turns out, should never be clear, and the group was getting instructions on what to do if that happens.
As the group listened closely to hear the guidance from Agent and County Director Creig Kimbro, I thought about the impact our work as the state’s flagship land-grant university has on the people of our state.
From the individual interactions our UT Extension agents have with farmers and homeowners to developing new technology in precision agriculture and food security, from advancing human and animal health to supporting the next generation of leaders in agriculture, the UT Institute of Agriculture is making life and lives better across Tennessee and beyond.
In recent years, the institute has celebrated a string of highlights:
- Research awards and sponsored projects in the institute tripled in the last fiscal year, growing to $210 million.
- Included in that funding is $50 million in grants for facilities and equipment upgrades to 10 AgResearch and Education Centers, including the one in Crossville.
- Enrollment in the Herbert College of Agriculture has grown almost 20 percent over the last four years.
- The College of Veterinary Medicine’s new Teaching and Learning Center opened last fall, and construction on a new 157,000-square-foot energy and environmental science research building is underway.
- UTIA is a partner in four of seven UT Knoxville faculty cluster hires, a $50 million strategic investment to deepen our expertise in key interdisciplinary research fields.
- UT Extension just opened its fourth 4-H and Youth Development Center, located at Lone Oaks Farm, which will build upon the excellence of this statewide program offering STEM education and additional opportunities for learning.
The institute’s momentum has continued to build under the leadership of Keith Carver, who has served as interim senior vice chancellor and senior vice president of UTIA since March and whom UT System President Randy Boyd and I have recommended be appointed to the role permanently. The Board of Trustees will vote on the measure later this month.
Dr. Carver was with me in Crossville in August when we saw firsthand the important work happening at the UT AgResearch and Education Center and the impact it has on people across the state.
During tours of the facility, faculty and staff pointed out fields of squash where Associate Professor and Extension Specialist Annette Wszelaki is conducting a variety trial to learn what types grow and store well in Tennessee, empowering farmers and home gardeners with the knowledge needed for a better harvest. There were rows of roses where the UT Plateau AgResearch and Education Center is collaborating with Texas A&M University on the largest rose-rosette disease field trial in the country. We passed cattle that our researchers are monitoring with new technology to track food intake patterns that can be linked to nutritional deficits.
The field day is just one of the activities that take place at the center. On other days, you may see third graders enjoying a field trip where faculty and staff teach them where their food comes from. Extension master gardeners hold classes for the community to keep outdoor spaces beautiful. It is a place of constant activity to better our state.
It is through this work in research, teaching, and extension that UTIA touches lives and provides real-life solutions to the everyday challenges Tennesseans face. Faculty translate their knowledge about food, fiber, natural resources, and human and animal health to farmers and citizens, who make use of the information and employ it in turn to benefit others.
Agriculture is, and always has been, a vital industry for our state—it is both our heritage and our future.