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Common Ground

This new year is off to a fast start, and I'm looking forward to many exciting accomplishments throughout the Institute in 2017.

Thanks to everyone for such a warm and positive welcome as I begin my new role as chancellor. As I've shared with many who emailed, texted, messaged, or wrote to me with words of support and encouragement, the most important work done in the Institute is the work carried out by our faculty, staff, and volunteers each and every day. It's an honor and a privilege to lead such a talented and dedicated group.

The fires in Gatlinburg and storms in several parts of East Tennessee in December were devastating to members of our communities.

Members of the Institute family across the state have provided exceptional response and assistance. From treating animals suffering from the effects of fire and smoke, to raising funds for families who lost homes and belongings, to relocating cattle due to losses of facilities, UTIA employees made very positive contributions to those who were impacted by natural disasters.

The end of the year also brought a flurry of activity in our Office of Advancement as donors made pledges and gifts to support Institute programs and activities. Private gifts make a huge difference in our ability to deliver real-life solutions to students, farmers, families, and communities, and we appreciate the support provided to us by those who invest in the Institute through a wide range of gifts.

My focus for the next few months will be enhancing our impacts through state and federal funding, engaging the Institute in the development of a long-term plan, and growing new initiatives to take advantage of opportunities or address critical social issues. Thanks for your support in carrying out our mission in these exciting times.

Here's to a great 2017!

Opening Eyes to Ag & Natural Resources Careers

UTIA educators plan hands-on experiences for 9th-12th graders

Institute educators have received a two-year USDA NIFA grant to model how schools can use soilless vegetable growing systems to grow vegetables like bibb lettuce (above) in controlled environments. The hands-on experience aims to enhance student learning in chemistry, biology, and agriculture science, and open the eyes of youth in urban and suburban areas to the many opportunities in these fields and breadth of studies they offer.

Natalie Bumgarner, an assistant professor and UT Extension specialist in Plant Sciences, along with Jennifer Richards, Carrie Stephens, and Daniel Sarver, of the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications, will lead the Tennessee-based project to develop a curriculum and professional development products that teachers can use to encourage students in grades 9-12 to pursue food, agriculture, natural resource, and human science (FANH) careers, with emphasis on engaging, hands-on learning. More...

Soil Scientist to Lead Climate Change Community

Sindhu Jagadamma, an assistant professor of soil management in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, is the newly elected vice chair for the Global Climate Change Community within the American Society of Agronomy (ASA). As a vice chair, she will work closely with the chair to serve the global climate change community in 2017 and will take the position of chair in 2018.

The Global Climate Change Community is a group within the ASA's Climatology and Modeling Section. It provides a forum for discussion of approaches for mitigation of climate change and adaptation with respect to agronomic systems. By serving in this role, Jagadamma hopes to develop a deeper understanding of how cropping systems respond to unexpected climatic changes and use that information to influence better cropping system designs for Tennessee and the region. More...

UT AgResearch Announces 2017 Field Days

UT AgResearch has released the schedule of 2017 field days, and eleven are ahead along with four special events.

The schedule includes a new "Forest Research Overview." Held at the Forest Resources AgResearch and Education Center, this event will provide opportunities for professional foresters as well as interested landowners to learn more about forest and natural resource management.

The biennial "Ag in the Foothills" event returns, with program topics to cover the diverse agricultural interests of the region. Other changes include the return of the popular "Turf and Ornamental Field Day" on September 7 and the timing of the "Organic Crops Field Tour" moving from spring to fall. All three of these events will take place at the East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center. More...

Graduate Student—A Unique Component of the Land-Grant System

by AgResearch Dean Bill Brown

The integration of teaching, research, and extension outreach programs is unique to land-grant agricultural institutions. The three interconnected mission areas provide an ideal framework to solve the grand challenges faced by agriculture, food, environment, water, and energy production and management. Undergraduate and graduate students are central to that work as they engage with PhD faculty in learning and research.

At UTIA and other land-grant, agricultural institutions, we need to capitalize on the fact that high-quality society-ready undergraduates and future scientists are being trained due to the teaching and engagement of PhD-level faculty, and this partnership serves to benefit both. More ...

Job gains, a stabilizing population, rising income, and declining poverty. These are some of the trends that characterized rural America in 2015. A report issued by the USDA Economic Research Service gives an overall perspective of developments during that year. More...

Innovative Tech by Two AgResearchers Win Funds

Two UTIA members are among eight individual and teams of inventors to receive $15,000 in maturation funding from the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.

The eight were selected from a pool of forty strong applications for the merit and potential of their ideas for new technologies.

Scott Lenaghan, a research assistant professor in the Department of Food Science, received funding for the development of a library of potential enhancer elements for precise gene regulation.

Xiaofei (Philip) Ye, a professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science and Center for Renewable Carbon, and Baoshan Huang, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, won funds to advance their idea for higher-value added and innovative use of biofuel production waste as a biomodifier for asphalt binder.

Additional funding typically is needed to advance university-developed technologies to the stage that will attract commercial interest. More...

Wine Industry Deepens Roots in State

Tennessee has always been rich in agricultural diversity, and recent statistics are proving that again, as the grape and wine industry in Tennessee bears fruit.

A UT Extension analysis finds continued strong growth by Tennessee's wine and grape industry. Direct "covered" or hired jobs grew to 435 workers in the first quarter of 2016—an increase of more than 20 percent from the same period in 2015. The number of businesses with hired workers saw a similar increase. More...

I am UTIA—
In Knoxville, Meet Dr. Brian Whitlock

Associate Professor & Section Head, Field Services,
UTCVM Large Animal Clinical Sciences

What do you do in your work?

Within the research realm of my job, my interest and expertise includes (but isn't limited to) reproductive neuroendocrinology with an emphasis in kisspeptin and the hypothalamus. In addition to research, I teach and mentor students in the areas of theriogenology, large animal medicine, surgery, and production medicine. When I was in private practice, almost 99 percent of my work was field-based; I'm drawn to it and really enjoy interacting with farmers at the farm and helping them improve their operations so they can become more profitable. It's important for our students to experience work in the field, where we don't always know what we are facing until we arrive.

At times, it does put students in difficult situations they can't anticipate and forces them to apply knowledge in a unique environment. I think it pushes them further and is the closest thing they will experience to private practice while in vet school.

How long have you been with the Institute?

I've been here eight-and-a-half years. My twins were three-years-old and now they are almost young adults with a six-year-old brother who drives them crazy. I don't know that I would change a thing!

What is the best part of your job?

I enjoy taking things that seem complicated and distilling them into what's really important and relevant. For example, a pregnancy check is sticking your hand in a cow. You can explain the physiology and science behind a pregnancy check, but when I explain how much money a veterinarian can save a farmer by diagnosing open cows, the students really begin to see the importance of it. Ultimately they can become better veterinarians, diagnosticians, and an important part of the farm. We don't have a system that licenses just small- or large-animal veterinarians, so it is my responsibility to get them practice-ready, because they are licensed to practice all of it.

Other thoughts?

I enjoy the intellectual stimulation from interacting with faculty in the College and the Institute, and I really love the opportunities to collaborate with people in Animal Science. Prospective faculty members here for interviews always ask, "Why should I come to UT?" Almost always the first thing I stress are the collaborative opportunities within the Institute! Not a month goes by that I don't meet a new person with similar interests whom I want to work with on a project, whether in clinical, teaching, or research. And often our shared interests make these collaborations fun, as well as rewarding.

Smoky Mountain Strong

The devastating fires that burned Gatlinburg and Sevier County late last year destroyed homes, businesses, thousands of acres of forests—and claimed fourteen lives.

Now efforts are underway to rebuild and help people get their lives back. In a podcast, Charles Denney describes how UT Extension is helping with simple gestures of giving, collecting, and kindness. More...


Learning Wildlife Conservation, Belize Style

In December, eleven Institute students—nine from the College of Veterinary Medicine and two from CASNR's Department of Animal Science—took a break from their winter break to study in Belize. In a two-credit hour course that combined online study modules with the study abroad program, the students explored the role of medicine and policy in wildlife conservation.

Dr. Marcy Souza of UTCVM coordinated the course, which enabled students to get hands-on experience with wildlife. "At the Belize Wildlife and Referral Center, our students participated in a variety of lectures, labs, discussions, and clinic work. The focus was on native species including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and marine species."

Students also learned how to evaluate sources of information regarding global species conservation and create treatment plans for wild species in rehabilitation, as well as describe the steps needed to reintroduce the animals to the wild. In addition, the students composed a review of the role of wildlife rehabilitation and public policy in the conservation of animal (or plant) species.

In Memoriam

Bill Miller, age 93. Miller earned a PhD in Animal Science from UT, specializing in Dairy. He spent the majority of his career as a professor with UT, rising to head of the Extension Animal Science-Dairy Department. Memorial

James G. O'Neal, age 87, retired in 1985 as a professor and leader of the UT Extension Swine Section in the Department of Animal Science with thirty years of service to UTIA. Memorial

Joe Overton, age 95, was a former associate professor in the then-Department of Plant and Soil Science. He retired in 1983 with thirty-seven years of service at UTIA. Much of his tenure was as an agronomist at the West Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center, where he conducted studies of soils and crop production in the state. Memorial

Gov. & Crissy Haslam Celebrate 4-H at Open House

Holiday ornaments crafted by Tennessee 4-H'ers added sparkle and a learning opportunity to the Executive Residence when Governor Bill and Crissy Haslam welcomed visitors to their sixth annual open house. The event, called "Tennessee's Home for the Holidays," occurred across two weeks in December. For 2016, the state's First Lady chose to highlight agriculture as the theme.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture and multiple partner organizations contributed to the holiday displays, and Tennessee 4-H Youth Development was invited to provide ornaments for eight trees dedicated to youth organizations. Some 4-H'ers chose to feature their projects with sheep, swine, and even an action figure representing clothing and textiles. Others highlighted learning about computers, technology, and entomology. Still other youth focused on central 4-H values, such as community service. The patriotic ornament at top right proclaims, "Support our Troops."

4-H State Extension specialist Justin Crowe says, "We were delighted to be selected by the Office of the First Lady to highlight 4-H'ers and the many ways they are involved in Tennessee agriculture. This was a wonderful experience for our youth and also a great opportunity for hundreds of Tennesseans to learn about our program." Joining Crowe above is Kassidy Beasly of Sumner County, one of the many 4-H'ers who took part.


Common Ground is published monthly by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Send comments and suggestions to commonground@tennessee.edu. The University of Tennessee is an EEO/AA/Title VI/Title IX/Section 504/ADA/ADEA institution in the provision of its education and employment programs and services. All qualified applicants will receive equal consideration for employment without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical or mental disability, or covered veteran status.

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