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Farmers or food? Ag schools seek new funding

As the people who must provide the research needed to keep U.S. agriculture at its best, administrators and scientists of land-grant universities are beginning to understand their implications clearly.

The real problem they see is that too many of the people who fund their research are thinking "farmer" instead of "food." They're seeing support of agriculture as helping a tiny minority instead of the food-eating whole of their constituents.

"State and federal support of land-grant universities has declined in many states," said Gale Buchanan, dean and director of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "As a result, we have lost substantial capacity to carry out our research."

Buchanan said the CAES has lost more than 400 state-funded positions since 1990. "Our programs are very successful," he said. "But they're often taken for granted."

With their budgets declining, presidents and key administrators from more than 200 agricultural colleges across the nation have joined with industry representatives to seek new funding sources. To work collectively, a series of listening sessions were scheduled in Ohio, Texas, California, and most recently, Georgia.

"Our funding is on a collision course," Buchanan said. "Having the presidents of our land-grant universities working together to do something about this is like having Tiger Woods in your foursome or Herschel Walker in your backfield. It definitely gives you a leg up."

The nation's food supply should be of concern to everyone in the United States, said Peter Magrath, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges.

NASULGC, along with the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and UGA, sponsored the final listening session June 3 at UGA.

"We've got a real problem in terms of the erosion of support in the area of food," Magrath said. "We need funding to maintain in this country a safe, secure and nutritious food supply. After all, 100 percent of us need to eat."

Researchers commonly apply for grants from Federal agencies and other organizations to supplement their research efforts.

Information gathered from the four national listening sessions will be used to design and develop a strategic plan for increasing federal support of food-related research, extension and education programs at state universities and land-grant colleges.

The funding plan will identify appropriate sources of federal funds that aren't considered traditional partners of food and agriculture.

Partnerships will be explored with agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of commerce, energy and state.

"I think we're going to have to become more creative and seek new partnerships and begin to depend more on the private sector," said UGA President Michael Adams. "We won't apologize for depending on the private sector for funding support. Our fates are intertwined."

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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