UNL "Doubles Down" on Ag Research


"Doubling down" after a decade of budget cuts, the University of Nebraska makes a big investment in agriculture.

The president's top farm advisor visited Nebraska to make the case why rural America still matters.

"Who's going to help solve that global challenge? Who will lead America? It's going to be kids from rural areas," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vila said.

And he said it at the Rural Futures Institute, part of the University of Nebraska.

Farming, water, and sustainability are the areas where the university is putting its money.

Dr. Ronnie Green said, "This is most important to us and we want to be known internationally as the leading authority, the leading high educational institution in the world in these areas, and we're well on our way to doing that."

This past spring, Green laid out a bold plan to add 36 new positions, from plant molecular physiology to biosystems economics. A third of those jobs are already filled.

He said, "We have doubled down our investments in faculty for first time in 40 years we've been able to grow our faculty resources 10 percent. No other university is doing that."

They hope to attract talented young people, like state FFA officer Trey Mogensen of Cedar Rapids, currently a freshman at UNL.

"I grew up on a family farm. My dad has 4500 acres of corn, soybean, and hay production along with 300 cow–calf pairs. I was very involved growing up on the family farm and had the privilege to work with him every day," Mogensen said.

This is the ninth straight year of enrollment growth in ag programs.

But with the world's population expected to add two billion people by 2040, the university sees room for growth in ag programs.

So in addition to the Rural Futures Institute, they've also established the Water for Food institute, with influence that's already spanning the globe, even helping folks in India learn to irrigate more efficiently as they build on Nebraska's legacy as an agricultural leader.

"Nowhere is it more important than Nebraska, and we are fortunate to be leading in these areas, Green said.

Some would say it's risky to add 36 positions, especially when it's hard to know what budgets will be. But university leaders say if there's one area to invest in, it's agriculture and they see this as a strategic move.