University of Minnesota Alumni Association


Fertile Ground: Our Bond with Farmers

President Kaler milking a cow at the 2011 State Fair. His mother-in-law suggested he use a bucket next time.

One of my top priorities as president has been to build and strengthen relationships with Minnesota’s agricultural leaders and to ensure the University’s historic partnership with Greater Minnesota and its farming and natural resources communities.

It all began dramatically at my first visit to the State Fair in 2011 when I tested my cow-milking abilities, as you see in the accompanying photo. But when I showed the snapshot to my Tennessee mother-in-law, who grew up on a farm, she replied, “That’s a nice picture, dear, but next time put a bucket under the cow.” 

Well, no one told me that!

Seriously, agriculture and the University of Minnesota are as inextricably linked today as when we became the state’s only land-grant institution 155 years ago. It’s our responsibility and an essential component of our mission. 

After all, Minnesota ranks fifth in the nation in agricultural production and that generates nearly one-fifth of our state’s total economic activity. Just as we’re a global university, so, too, is Minnesota’s food a worldwide factor as the fourth largest exporting state in the nation. 

As this issue’s article about farmer Pat Duncanson (B.A. ’83) demonstrates, agriculture has evolved over the past half century. So, too, has the University’s responsiveness to the ag community. Indeed, as agribusiness and rural Minnesota have undergone dramatic changes, our approach to preparing the state’s ag workforce and our focus on ag-related research has adapted to the needs of producers and the food industry.   

• Take our Minnesota Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy—or MnDRIVE—initiative. MnDRIVE is a highly successful research partnership with the state of Minnesota, and two key components of MnDRIVE are tied to agriculture and natural resources. One, Global Food Ventures, helps to fund research around crop productivity, farm animal illnesses, and food safety, among others. Another research focus, simply called Environment, focuses on water resources, which are critical to sustainable agricultural production. 

• Take our College of Veterinary Medicine’s remarkably successful rapid response in 2015 that helped curtail the devastating effects of the avian flu for Minnesota’s nation-leading turkey producers.

• Take the ongoing strategic decisions by our College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, or CFANS, to better prepare Minnesota’s talent force, emphasizing how food and agriculture careers are data-driven and truly high-tech fields that require strong STEM competencies. 

• Or look at how Extension, with impact in all 87 counties, has constantly adjusted to better serve rural Minnesota’s increasingly diverse populations.

No one put it better than turkey producer Doug Huebsch (B.S. ’85), a member of the UMAA Board of Directors, when he testified before legislative committees earlier this year while advocating for our biennial budget request. Here’s what Doug said: “The University’s impact extends to just about every farmer, in every county, in every corner of the state, driving Minnesota’s global economy and our statewide workforce.” 

We aim to build on that while strengthening our enduring agricultural partnerships.