It’s been a little more than half a year since I joined CALS, and I’d like to share some thoughts and impressions as a relative newcomer to UW–Madison. I’d also like to highlight some programs that will ensure a successful and resilient future for CALS.
First and foremost, I have learned that CALS and the state of Wisconsin have an important symbiotic relationship. This relationship yields significant social and economic benefits for the state, resulting in a deep connection between CALS and the people of Wisconsin. This probably should not have surprised me: I came here from a land-grant institution, so I understand very well how land-grant institutions such as UW serve and partner with the citizens of their states. However, Wisconsin has some unique elements I have not experienced before.
One of the most interesting and impactful differences is our agricultural community’s investment in environmental stewardship, which involves both an intellectual commitment and a focus on improving practice. I have received so many insightful and well-informed questions about how the work we do at CALS will help make agriculture more sustainable. A dedication to environmental stewardship is evident in the state’s dairy community. I have seen firsthand the special relationship that dairy farmers have with their animals. And I’ve seen their keen interest in various technologies that can increase animal comfort, animal and soil health, and overall productivity and environmental sustainability.
A second unique factor in Wisconsin is the close relationship between the Division of Extension and CALS — a partnership that sustains Extension-funded faculty who make a tremendous impact in our state. These faculty excel at putting research into practice, and they interact with many different types of stakeholders to solve practical problems. And their ability to run world-class research programs with high-achieving students is certainly an important contributor to their overall excellence.
A third impression I’ve come away with during my time here is closely linked to this issue’s feature story on the mental health of farmers (see From Hardship to Hope). Agriculture is changing. New technologies and other tools have increased productivity, so fewer people are needed to raise the same amount of food. For many rural Wisconsinites, this means the traditional elements of farm life and culture are slipping away. It’s a complex issue that CALS will be working to address, in collaboration with Extension, using a $9.3 million investment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Part of this Wisconsin Rural Partnership program will focus on developing a network of weather stations across the state, which will collect and provide vital information for farmers. A second part will support research aimed at improving the social, educational, and economic facets of rural life in Wisconsin. Please look for updates on this important work through our web and social media presences and in future issues of Grow.
We can ensure a successful and resilient future for CALS by fully exploring our ability to use our expertise in agriculture and the life and social sciences to positively impact the lives of Wisconsinites. Bolstered by its many unique assets, the college is poised to do just that moving forward. You will be hearing more about this work in the future as well.This article was posted in Changing Climate, Economic and Community Development, Healthy Ecosystems, In Vivo, Spring 2023 and tagged Agriculture, farmer mental health, Glenda Gillaspy, land-grant, UW Division of Extension, Wisconsin Rural Partnership.