The following letter is a response to last week’s column about the Hereford sale, which I received from Dr. Janice Swanson, the Animal Science Department chair at Michigan State University:
I am writing to respond to your concerns regarding the sale of our herd of Hereford cattle.
Oct. 15, 2012, was indeed a sad day for us at Michigan State University and for many of our retired faculty, alumni and stakeholders, and I understand why some question MSU’s commitment to production animal agriculture.
What has been lost in the conversation is why we have had to take such measures; the importance of developing constructive discussions about why leaders and faculty members in colleges of agriculture nationwide are worried; and why animal science departments, not just MSU, are experiencing severe cutbacks.
In fact, state and federal budget cuts to agricultural research and education have closed two colleges of agriculture in the United State. For those that remain, funding cuts have caused departments of animal science to close animal facilities. What happened in Michigan?
In 2011 the state of Michigan cut the higher education budget by 15 percent. Although these cuts may sound small, they had huge impacts in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) at MSU. The cuts to AgBioResearch and MSUE (extension) lines are both absolute and cumulative over time. Most citizens and stakeholders are not aware that these budget impacts are unique to our College.
These cuts limited the dollars available to the CANR to support our programs and personnel. Only one of the three lines, the CANR general fund, can receive the offsets of tuition increases. The other two (AgBioResearch and MSUE) lines, which represent nearly 75 percent of the CANR budget, do not receive tuition offsets.
The cuts of the last fiscal year challenged us, as those funds would no longer be available to run the Department of Animal Science and its programs. In total, the Department of Animal Science lost nearly one-third of its operating budget.
The magnitude of these cuts was shared in a transparent manner with staff and faculty, our Stakeholder Advisory Committee and many of our commodity groups. As you can imagine, the cuts were a significant blow to the Department of Animal Science and resulted in the layoff of many staff, affected two specialist positions and caused reductions in operations.
We are not alone, however; Oregon State and the University of Nebraska recently closed their dairies. Colorado State University leadership decided they could only afford to focus on the most relevant species produced in its state. In 1992 the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment passed by the legislature limited state funding to Colorado public higher education to 19 percent, with further reductions to 10 percent in subsequent years. There is cause for deep concern.
If the United States (and its citizens) want to remain a major force in agriculture and food production and maintain a level of food security that does not put our citizens at risk, we will need to get the attention of Congress (and at the local level our legislature) to identify funding as a priority so that agriculture and food production is not taken for granted. We will need all the talent we can develop to address the challenges of growing and provisioning food as our world population continues to grow.
As a result of these concerns, department chairs and heads of U.S. animal, dairy and poultry science departments have formed a new organization called the National Assoc. for the Advancement of Animal Science to ensure that those conducting research, teaching and extension/outreach in animal agriculture have a voice in Washington, D.C., alongside our colleagues in the plant sciences.
To read more about the association, visit http://animalscience.tamu.edu/2012/07 /20/national-association-to-advocate-for- research-funding-of-animal-sciences
There are other perceptions that require further clarification. The MSU Beef Cow-Calf Teaching and Research Center will not be closed. Our Hereford herd was reduced based on recommendations by the manager and a former faculty coordinator of the unit with agreement by our affected faculty.
I stand by their recommendations that were based on available resources, the need to reduce cattle numbers and the ability to market and manage such a genetically superior herd with the loss of two principle (sic) positions to layoffs. We have retained our purebred Angus herd and kept valuable preserved Hereford embryos and semen along with the small group of Herefords. We are grateful to those who purchased our cattle.
We are currently working with faculty and stakeholders to determine needs, and set goals and priorities for the unit in teaching, research and extension/outreach with respect to beef cattle production and management systems. Our dedication to the beef industry and our students has not wavered.
Although we are living with the new budget reality, we have not stopped looking forward. We will continue to work to strengthen all of our animal science programs and to continue many academic and extracurricular activities that students have enjoyed. We have been grateful to our alumni and commodity groups who have generously contributed to make experiences such as competing on judging teams a reality for our students.
Our student enrollment is strong and continues to grow despite the setbacks we have recently faced. We look forward to working with our stakeholders to discover new venues that will enable us to offer a variety of options and experiences for our students in the Department of Animal Science. The support of our alumni, stakeholders and students in weathering this storm is appreciated. Brighter days are ahead.
I am accessible by email or phone if you have any questions regarding the future direction of MSU’s Department of Animal Science.
Thank you for remaining a Spartan!
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Those with questions or comments for Melissa Hart may write to her in care of this publication.