Our land grant universities, with the support of the private sector, have produced an amazing food supply for the United States. Our consumers have access to the most ubiquitous, safe and inexpensive food supply in the world. We spend, on average, less than 10% of our disposal income on food. We are so efficient that one percent of the population can produce enough food to feed all of us, with room for exports. Agriculture may be the only industry where our extraordinary success has hurt our political clout, but that is another story for another day.
The University of Connecticut, College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources, which may not be as well-known as many larger land grants, has an expertise in smallholder agriculture that may be very valuable to smallholder farmers around the world. Over half of those hungry in the world are, in fact, farmers who do not grow enough to feed their families.
The USDA General Counsel, Janie Hipp, gave the commencement speech last weekend at the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resourced. (She was excellent.) Earlier in the day, Dean Indrajeet Chaubey gave us a tour of some on the farm innovation happening in the State.
Connecticut is one of our smaller states with only 5,500 farms that average 65 acres, but they are involved in state-of-the-art technology. For example, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, working closely with UConn, produces food grown vertically and in hothouses and freight cars (yes) with controlled environments. Drip irrigation is used extensively. They use but five gallons of water a day. UConn is also one of the 22 Universities that benefit from USDA’s New Beginnings grant program for Indian education created in the last farm bill.
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The greenhouses growing hydroponic can harvest all year round and they plan to expand their livestock production. The agriculture technology at UConn and in the State may be the result of a unique leadership team:
- Dean Indrajeet Chaubey, from India, was Purdue's Associate Dean of International Programs.
- Bryan Hurlburt the Agriculture Commissioner was the executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association.
- Rodney Butler is the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Chairman and they have established a Tribal Department of Agriculture run by Jeremy Whipple.
- Bonnie Burr is the Assistant Director of Extension Programs.
The Dean’s interest in global agriculture is apparent from this comment: “As a land grant institution, generating knowledge that positively impacts the world is in our roots; it is what drives all that we do.” Our faculty is built on the foundation to improve the quality of life “for a sustainable global future tomorrow.”
UConn extension is creating innovative technologies that maximize the efficiency of agricultural inputs and land use through growing controlled environment agriculture research and outreach. Greenhouses represent over one third of the state’s $4.7 billion agriculture economy. New England has a short growing season, but greenhouse production allows agriculture production to continue year-round.
UConn is now associated with championship basketball and for good reasons (the men have won five national championships and the women have won eleven times) but its agriculture research may have a profound impact on smallholder famers around the world, especially in Africa, and the millions of people who are starving.
Marshall Matz is Senior Counsel at OFW Law in Washington, D.C. He helped establish the World Food Program, USA.