“Amidst budget constraints and other changes within agriculture, we’ve maintained a strong commitment to the industry,” says Doug Buhler, PhD and interim dean at MSU’s college of agriculture and natural resources. “Michigan has 30-40 commodities, from apples to zucchinis, so it’s a wonderful thing. The relationship between the university and the industry has been so beneficial.”
While the college has traditionally been focused on plants and animals, there has been a shift toward marketing new products, with a focus on natural, locally grown foods. The Snyder Administration has also kept with that trend, centering attention on keeping foods and products localized within Michigan.
There has also been a strong emphasis on bio-energy in the past five to seven years in Michigan, and researching climate change is a piece of it. With the resurgence of interest in sustainability and environmental concerns, the college has spent a good amount of time figuring out local food and modernizing their terminology, doing away with the term horticulture, for example.
“These will always be important issues,” Buhler says. “Like, how do we balance the urban and agriculture interface? Or, how do we preserve water and air, to maximize natural beauty? Tourism [and agri-tourism] is a massive industry in Michigan.” In fact, agri-tourism brings billions to the nation and millions to the state—and many say this industry can be tapped into and developed even further.
The technology of crops
“We’ve been seen as problem solvers here,” says Buhler. “All genetically modified crop is an example of research on model plants—we keep that pipeline full—however, technology has significantly changed how we do things.”
Technology has undoubtedly changed how farmers have traditionally done business. Today, combine machinery is controlled by satellites and major shifts have occurred to how farming has been done in the past. Farmers now wish to sell their grain overseas and those within the industry are paying more attention to international policy in countries like China and India.
According to Buhler, MSU has had a lengthy and strong history in international engagement. “Agriculture is a major international business,” he adds. “And there are so many opportunities here for young people interested in global trade or economics to branch out.”
The MSU Product Center (productcenter.msu.edu) works to improve economic opportunities in the areas of agriculture, food and natural resources. The center helps develop and commercialize high-value, consumer-responsive products and businesses in the agriculture and natural resource sectors. It’s an open door to those entrepreneurs just starting out or seasoned business veterans and offers access to MSU’s research, outreach and services.
Through its research and service knowledge base, MSU’s Business Connect (businessconnect.msu.edu) provides support to entrepreneurs, offers research partnerships, regional development and directs businesses to the resources needed to recruit students or find a researcher.
“These resources help us to be responsive, despite a decline in funding,” says Buhler. “We play a significant role in maintaining and protecting the industry in our state. We also have opportunities to refocus our research to see the economic development opportunities to enhance our value and to help businesses.”
Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Douglas Buhler, PhD
102 Agriculture Hall