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Guest Opinions

The Western Perspective and Western Agenda

Written by Bret Hess

By Bret Hess, Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station Director


Deans and directors working for Colleges of Agriculture at western land-grant universities published “The Western Perspective and Western Agenda” to document and demonstrate the value of the West to the U.S. agriculture sector. Available at waaesd.org/the-western-agenda, “The Western Perspective and Western Agenda” also outlines research and educational programs provided by western land-grant universities  that are critical to supporting agriculture and natural resources in the West.

“The Western Perspective and Western Agenda” evolved from joint work by members of the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors and the Western Extension Directors Association. Members of these associations are employed by western land-grant universities from the plains states of New Mexico to the south and Montana to the north and stretching out from Alaska all the way to the U.S. territories in the Pacific Islands. When members of these associations were surveyed, it became astoundingly evident that these college leaders believed the importance of agriculture andland-grant universities in the West are undervalued. 

This impression grew stronger when the western-most Farm Bill hearing by the U.S. Congress House Agriculture Subcommittee was held in Dodge City, Kan. on April 20, 2012. This was surprising as much as it was disappointing given that the vast geographic expanse described above covers nearly 25 percent of the earth’s surface and the western region accounts for 23.3 percent of U.S. farm gate receipts.

The West is uniquely different than any other agricultural region in the U.S., or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Agricultural production throughout much of the region relies heavily on the 47 percent of publicly-owned land, including 81 percent of the land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The western region is characterized as large expanses of sparsely populated rural areas in a matrix that generally covers huge geographic distances often juxtaposed by densely populated urban centers. Wildfire, water security, population growth and invasive species are a few factors affecting agriculture and management of natural resources in this mosaic landscape.

In addition to documenting the value of agricultural and natural resource assets of the western region and summarizing key issues that impact the region, “The Western Perspective and Western Agenda” outlines the critical supporting role of the western land-grant university system. The five overarching focus areas coordinated among western land-grant universities include Sustainable Production Systems; Natural Resources; Energy; Community and Economic Development; and Nutrition and Health: Innovation in Foods for Health.

There are several main goals of implementing the actions in the report.

First, the actions strive to increase the visibility of the West with elected officials and other key external and internal audiences. In addition, they seek to enhance public support for campus, county, state and regionally-based programs and initiatives consistent with the broad mission related to the western land-grant university programs.

Next, the actions of the document look to highlight the contributions of the land-grant universities of the West by documenting the economic, environmental, consumer and other tangible benefits delivered to the people of West through their research, teaching and Extension programs.

Implementation of the report also strives to increase funding - including state, federal, local and private sources -
for mission-related research and public service programs in the western land-grant universities including, but not limited to, the Agricultural Experiment Station, Cooperative Extension Service and Academic Programs.

It also seeks to identify gaps in the western land-grant university infrastructure so that better delivery of research, Extension and academic programs can be achieved for people and communities in the West, as well as to build capacity in the western land-grant university system to support healthy food systems, healthy environments, healthy families and healthy communities through research and education.

Accomplishment of these goals will lead to western region land-grant universities that help maintain the viability of the region’s agricultural vitality and natural resources well into the future.

For more information contact Bret Hess, associate dean for research and director of Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Stations, at 307-766-3667 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. More information is also available at uwyo.edu/uwexpstn.