A Strategic Plan for Minnesota Agriculture

In 2009, the Unversity of Minnesota hired Informa Economics to help create a strategic plan for Minnesota Agriculture. Below you will find key excerpts from that plan titled A Strategic Vision for Minnesota Agriculture: Understanding and Responding to the Needs of University Stakeholders. Within the plan they identified five key trends while listening to Minnesota stakeholders. They are:

  • Renewable Fuels
  • Environment
  • Agriculture's Labor Force
  • Sustainable and Organic Production
  • Research and Extension for the Future

Renewable Fuels

Issue: Ethanol, biodiesel, wind and other renewable energy sources are changing the economic landscape of Minnesota agriculture. Studies place the cumulative total economic impact of ethanol in Minnesota at $12.06 billion and about 70,225 jobs.

Challenges: Improved technology for new and existing production systems; expanded uses for byproducts; identifying opportunities; evaluating impacts.

Minnesota ethanol production increasing.

"The rapid growth of this demand for U.S. feedgrains has changed the price and cost structure for most crops and livestock nationwide—a shift that is defining many wide-ranging research areas of immediate importance to nearly all stakeholders. Common examples include improving feed efficiency and the use of ethanol by-products in feed rations, yield, and production improvements for corn (and all crops that compete with corn for acreage) so that all new and existing markets can be better served. Other issues include the development and refinement of more effective risk management strategies to better cope with market risks that result from the sector's increasing volatility. In addition, the evolution of biofuels policies and public interest in "next generation" biofuels using alternative feedstocks suggests the need to maintain a focus on emerging and potential ethanol production technologies, and the implications for product markets, logistics, and potentially profitable new crops."

Environment

Issue: Minnesotans agree that clean water and clean air is important. They don't always agree on how to make this happen.

Challenges: Providing unbiased, research based answers to environmental questions; helping farmers use best management practices; finding cost effective ways to reduce environmental concerns before those concerns result in regulations.

Farmland.

"It is widely understood that modern agricultural production practices and continuing technological advances support large gains in productivity throughout the agricultural sector. While these advances are essential to maintain the competitive positions of many producers, they also can be the source of conflict and controversies about associated social and environmental costs. . . . As the general public has become less connected to the farm, it also has been exposed to significant negative or incorrect publicity about agriculture. . . . The University has an especially important role in balancing the interests of farmers and the rest of society, ensuring that the regulatory agenda is supported by valid science judiciously applied. In addition, stakeholders in Minnesota and nationwide emphasize the need for greater and more accessible technical assistance both in complying with existing regulations and in adopting production practices that could cost-effectively reduce environmental concerns."

Agriculture's Labor Force

Issue: Agriculture is a people business. Attracting students with strong science skills is vital.

Challenges: Minnesota is raising fewer farm kids; non-farm students often don't pursue agriculture careers; managers need education on how to manage farm labor; national shortage of agricultural graduate students.

Student with dairy cow.

"Continued progress and prosperity for Minnesota agriculture depends on strong commitment to academic excellence by the land-grant system, and by the University of Minnesota in particular. The state will continue to face challenging demographic trends, as do other communities across the Midwest. And, it faces nationwide and perceptional issues that complicate efforts to attract the most talented students to agricultural fields of study. . . . Many of the most important and exciting career opportunities in agriculture today go far beyond basic agricultural skills and knowledge, requiring extensive training fields as diverse as biology, chemistry, advanced mathematics, business and physics. Students with a strong science-based knowledge are critical for the continued advancement of industries including biofuels, crop and livestock genetics, farm crop and management consulting, and many others."

Sustainable and Organic Production

Issue: Minnesota ranks first in organic production of soybeans, corn, and rye and is a leader in organic livestock production, sustainable agriculture techniques, and organic food marketing.

Challenges: Finding ways to maximize market potential; sharing research that fits all production systems; providing research that fits specialized needs of organic and sustainable producers.

Food market.

"Organic agriculture—systems that conform to specifically defined practices and which are eligible for organic certification—has become one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. The growth in this and other specialty markets promotes wider diversity in the system, and therefore greater diversity in the needs of the sector and the approaches for addressing problems that arise. This can create controversy in establishing a research agenda, since with limited resources the University must allocate support to different stakeholders across competing interests while being careful not to explicitly or implicitly favor one system over another.

Managing a research focus on "alternative" production systems alongside conventional ones can be expected to lead to synergies that benefit all producers."

Research and Extension for the Future

Issue: The University of Minnesota is fully committed to agriculture and the needs of its stakeholders. Those needs have changed greatly since the land-grant system started 150 years ago and the pace of change is accelerating.

Challenges: Keeping connected to changing stakeholder needs; finding ways to pay for increasingly complex agricultural research.

Researcher in lab.

"The diversity of Minnesota's agricultural industry, and the ever-expanding mission of land-grant universities (and public higher education in general) to serve the research needs of society given limited funding, faculty, and physical resources suggests that some needs will necessarily go unmet as faculty and administrators make decisions about program focus and attention among many competing interests. . . . There are many factors that likely discourage—unintentionally—greater cooperation across the (national) land-grant system, including state funding mechanisms that require research be focused on locally important issues, the administrative difficulty of sharing research funds across universities, and the system-wide tendency to reward faculty based on their research output compared to peers within similar fields. . . . So long as the University of Minnesota's mission is focused tightly on efficiently and effectively meeting the needs of all stakeholders, greater coordination and collaboration with other land-grant institutions should be highly encouraged."