Opinion by BuchananWritten by Tom Buchanan
Tom Buchanan, President, University of Wyoming
On July 2, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act, allowing for the creation of land grant institutions in each state to provide education related to agriculture, home economics and mechanical arts.
Twenty-five years later, even before Wyoming became a state, the University of Wyoming opened its doors based upon the foundation of the Morrill Act, also known as the Land Grant College Act.
As we this year mark the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act and UW’s 125th anniversary, it’s important to note the university remains dedicated to its land-grant mission. Whether it’s educating students for careers in agriculture or conducting research to benefit Wyoming’s farmers and ranchers, UW takes seriously its mandate to serve the people of the state.
At a time when the agriculture industry is seeing its workforce age rapidly, I’m happy to report that enrollment in our College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has never been higher – more than 1,000 students for the second year in a row. Young people are entering these fields of study in part because agriculture remains such an important industry in the state and in part because of UW’s strong leadership. We have focused our programs in areas where our students really have an opportunity to enter careers, grow and succeed.
For example, we recently rolled out a new degree incorporating animal science and agribusiness. The targets are students who have an interest in the livestock aspect of agribusiness. In addition, we have a new bachelor of applied science degree that allows students who have two-year degrees, along with time in the workforce, to come back to school and finish bachelor’s degrees in two years.
We’re also cooperating with Sheridan College to improve our agroecology and horticulture program. Under this partnership, students who receive associate’s degrees in horticulture will be able to take their third year of classes in Sheridan, then their final year at UW, to earn bachelor’s degrees.
The Sheridan effort is getting a big boost from UW’s purchase and renovation of the Watt Agricultural Building from Sheridan College. The project’s purpose is to strengthen UW’s partnership with Sheridan College, enhance and consolidate UW’s program in agriculture and horticulture and provide a unified site for outreach instruction for UW students in Sheridan. We’re working with Sheridan College and Whitney Benefits, a nonprofit foundation in Sheridan, to lease the adjacent Adams Ranch at little or no cost. We plan to integrate the Adams Ranch into our Sheridan Research and Extension Center and curriculum for third-year agriculture students.
As Wyoming’s only four-year university, we recognize the importance of reaching out across the width and breadth of our big state. Nowhere is that more evident than in agriculture.
UW Extension – which, since 1914, has helped Wyoming farm and ranch families respond to challenges and changes – maintains offices in all 23 counties and on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Through various publications and personal contacts, UW Extension provides information and assistance to help rural communities thrive.
Perhaps our biggest contribution to Wyoming agriculture is our focus on research, both on campus and through our research centers in Lingle, Powell and Sheridan. Our scientists aim to help producers and constituents address a wide variety of issues important to Wyoming. In 2011, for example, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources completed a total of 79 applied research projects. Of those projects, 25 were related to crop research, 27 to livestock production and health, three to economics, three to weed management, 17 to horticulture and three to food safety. Key projects are reported and presented at field days and at public speaking engagements.
We’re making a particular effort to reach out to constituents across the state to make sure our research enterprise is responsive to the needs of our stakeholders. For example, producers have asked for more help with farm and ranch budgeting, so we’ve hired new personnel to work in the area of ag finances.
Emblematic of UW’s commitment to the state’s agriculture industry is the fact that Frank Galey, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, recently was honored by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association with its “Guardian of the Grasslands” award for his efforts to protect the state’s natural resources.
Along those lines, we recently received the largest research grant in UW history – $20 million from the National Science Foundation – for wide-ranging research into one of our state’s most precious resources: water. There’s nothing more central to the future of agriculture in Wyoming and the West. We expect this research to yield important information to guide water managers as they make decisions during a time of increasing demand and climate variability.
Be assured we will continue working to communicate what we’re doing and to seek your input in setting priorities. For UW to remain effective, we must always remember we are a land-grant university. That means quality instruction and research, particularly in agriculture, and remaining connected to the people who live in our great state.