A CALS “Bridge to Business” Turns 20

The Renk Agribusiness Institute has earned its laurels, but with a new director and fresh ideas for the coming decade, the institute has no plans to rest on them

Each January, the Renk Agribusiness Institute hosts the Wisconsin Ag Outlook Forum and releases the Status of Wisconsin Agriculture report—a sure sign for the agricultural business community that the new year is here. And each fall sees the arrival of a new cohort of Renk Scholars, undergraduates selected

for a scholarship program emphasizing leadership in contemporary agricultural issues and agribusiness.

The Renk Agribusiness Institute was founded 20 years ago to coordinate the university’s agribusiness teaching, research and outreach activities, provide financial assistance to students pursuing agribusiness degrees and offer professional development programs for agribusiness executives. The institute originated with a gift from the Renk family of Sun Prairie, founders of the Renk Seed Company. The institute is housed in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics (AAE) and draws on the expertise of faculty from across campus.

This year the institute has a new director: AAE professor Paul Mitchell, who is eager to increase the visibility and reputation of agriculture and agribusiness in CALS and UW and build more connections between the campus and agribusinesses in the state and region.

“Whether by offering educational and training opportunities for agribusiness professionals,
or exploring new options to facilitate connections between campus and the state’s ag industry, the institute can play an important role to help maintain and enhance the innovation capacity of Wisconsin agribusiness,” Mitchell says.

The Renk Scholars program offers a great way to help fuel growth, notes Mitchell.

“I inherited a solid student program from my predecessors, with a thriving agribusiness management club and a number of undergraduates participating in national student competitions,” says Mitchell. “Through the high-caliber work of the students, I hope to build the program’s reputation and visibility on campus and especially in the private sector as the number of Renk alums continues to grow. Through these experiences, we’re establishing cohorts among the students that generate synergies—and lifelong connections for both students and campus to capitalize on.”

Mitchell, along with colleagues on campus and partners around the state, a committed board of advisors and new associate director Jeremy Beach, is taking time this year to consider exactly how the institute should grow.

“There’s plenty of work to do and we are still in the visioning stages,” says Mitchell. “I’ve been looking more carefully at data analytics or ‘big data’ as a possible focus for the institute as it builds on the strengths of the department and college, but we have many other ideas on the table as well.”

Click here for more information on the Renk Agribusiness Institute and the Renk Scholars Program

Paul Mitchell, Agricultural and Applied Economics, takes the helm at the Renk Agribusiness Institute.
Photo by Ben Vincent, UW-Madison CALS