Posted: December 1, 2022

Hosted in Food Sciences (Erickson) Building, Penn State students, faculty, and staff joined Dr. Carrie Castille, Senior Vice Chancellor and Senior Vice President of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), to discuss challenges faced by the extension system and to shed light on the future of land grants in the 21st century. The running theme throughout Dr. Castille’s McDowell Lecture was the importance of partnerships. If universities and extension programs are going to address the challenges faced by agriculture today and in the future, intent on sustaining natural resources and supporting growing populations, partnerships are going to be a vital part of any successful initiative.

Dr. Castille, who previously served as Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, took the time to showcase several vital partnerships at UTIA. From long-standing relationships such as with Donnie Smith (CEO of Foster Farms) to new and innovative connections with the Tennessee Craft Brewers Association, departments and communities connected with the land grant university can make use of talent to become more competitive, profitable, and sustainable.

Looking to the future, Dr. Castille shared hopes and visions of a new initiative that will operate much like Penn State’s Meat Laboratory. In partnership with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Farm Bureau, UTIA will be opening their Protein Innovation Center to lead the state in support of research, education, and development of the meat industry. Working with the USDA, industry partners, and agricultural producers in nine states, UTIA is becoming an emerging leader in the Climate-Smart Grasslands project, supporting natural resources in an evolving climate.

Other key points included interdisciplinary approaches, listening to community needs, and fostering experiential learning opportunities. UTIA is home to one of two named international agricultural centers in the nation- the Smith Center for International Sustainable Agriculture. This center has hosted delegations of international scholars in immersive learning experiences and is preparing the first knowledge sharing cohort to travel abroad.

When asked for suggestions to speed development and implementation of programs and partnerships by a student in the audience, Dr. Castille emphasized the role of leadership. Leaders can mobilize their networks and provide students access to partnerships that might support new programs and innovations. Whether a researcher wants to aid in farmer stress reduction with the Southern Ag Exchange (SAGE), a community member wishes to earn a certificate in Horticultural Therapy, or a producer wants to implement real-time monitoring of health and well-being parameters of animals, UTIA serves those in Tennessee’s 95 counties through strategic partnerships in the agricultural industry.

The future of land grant institutions is strengthened by partnerships in industry, government, in the community, across campus, with alumni and students. Through these efforts and coordination, duplicate services are reduced, and the interests of partners and the institution are cultivated, advancing new investments, economic opportunity, social health, and ecological stewardship.

Milton S. McDowell Lecture Series

Milton S. McDowell Lectures, hosted by the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, are held annually in honor of the late Milton “Mickey” S. McDowell, Class of 1892, and first director of the Pennsylvania Cooperation Extension Service (1912-1942). The lecture series provides opportunities to address issues that face the Extension in the 21st century, to examine issues which are not necessarily endorsed by the administration, to honor the selected speakers’ contributions to their field, and to provide the opportunity for recognized leaders in the field to address Extension issues.

By Tanja Hernandez, PhD Student Education Development

Community Engagement Department of Agricultural Economics

Sociology, and Education

The Pennsylvania State University