CAHNR and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, working together to benefit agriculture

CAHNR animal facilities
CAHNR facilities photo from the CAHNR Archives.

The College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) traces its history with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAG) to UConn’s history as the Storrs Agricultural School. At the original founding of the University, the Commissioner of the Connecticut DoAG was placed on the college’s Board of Trustees. In 1893, the Storrs Agricultural School received the land grant status for the state of Connecticut, which further entrenched this historical relationship.

One legacy of UConn’s land grant status is the continued aim to conduct research that provides direct benefit to state stakeholders in agriculture, science and engineering, who were the identified constituents included under the Morrill Act, the congressional act that created the land grant system. “The responsibility to the public good is what separates state universities that are land grants from those that are not,” noted Professor and former Interim Dean Cameron Faustman. An active dialogue between these key stakeholders and university researchers is essential to ensure that research is being conducted that is directly relevant to stakeholder needs. To ensure that this dialogue takes place, one major area of continued collaboration between CAHNR and DoAG is through coming to the table together on advisory groups and boards.

Department Head and Associate Professor Bonnie Burr, with the Cooperative Extension System, described the importance of such an open conversation by detailing the value of the Commissioner of Agriculture serving on the Dean’s Advisory Board as an example. The discussion between the Commissioner and the Dean can help to bridge the gap between these two interests to ensure that research coming out of the college is beneficial to agricultural professionals.

One specific example of the value of the collaboration is the USDA grant for the Farm Risk Management and Crop Insurance Program. The collaborative nature on this particular project dates back to the early 2000s when the program was first developed through funds received from the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.

A working group was convened between DoAG and UConn Extension, and it was determined that UConn Extension, with a mission of educating state agricultural producers, was best suited to carry out the grant activities. Associate Cooperative Extension Educator Joseph Bonelli serves as principle investigator on the grant, with Visiting Associate Extension Educator Mary Concklin as co-principle investigator. They have created a working group which includes DoAG, as well as statewide agricultural groups to help carry out grant activities today.

Bonelli, who has been with the program since its inception, described the current process, “Almost anything we do is a collaborative effort. If you have different people doing the same program, it is not efficient.” Bringing together several agencies working on behalf of our agricultural community to deliver useful programs is the smart way to provide educational outreach. He views this relationship as a win-win for the College, and the agricultural producers of the state. Conserving both human resources and the use of funds, with the direct beneficiary being the farmers and growers in the state.

An example of a direct beneficiary of this collaborative effort is Ben Freund, of the Freund’s Farm dairy operation, who describes risk management as an important tool. He said, “It’s an ever-changing tool because it’s government based. Things change, rules change. Other programs come into being to consider, but having some kind of risk mitigation on the farm, because it’s available, is something that is worthwhile to get to understand.” The work of the UConn Farm Risk Management team and CAHNR makes understanding risk management considerably simpler for farmers and growers in the state.

With both new CAHNR Dean Indrajeet Chaubey, who started work March 1, and new DoAG Commissioner-Designate Bryan Hurlburt, who started on March 29, we should expect the continuation of this mutually beneficial relationship. Faustman said,  “It’s an exciting time in state agriculture, and new leadership in each of these critical offices will provide opportunities for different approaches and projects to reinforce this critical partnership between CAHNR and DoAG.” It is one where both institutions continue to help and support each other and, more importantly, the farmers and growers in the state.

By: Thomas Krumel