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Inside UK's College Of Agriculture, Food & Environment

Tom Godell

It’s not all about farming on this edition of UK Perspectives. UK’s College of Agriculture, Food & Environment -- cleverly abbreviated as CAFE -- houses 14 academic units teaching everything from Community and Leadership Development to Veterinary Science to Horticulture and beyond. Overseeing it all is our guest, CAFE Dean Nancy Cox.

GODELL: It's not all about farming, today on UK Perspectives. I'm Tom Godell. UK's College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, cleverly abbreviated as CAFE, houses 14 academic units teaching everything from community and leadership development to veterinary science to horticulture and beyond. Overseeing it all is CAFE Dean Nancy Cox. Welcome to UK Perspectives, Nancy.

COX: Thank you very much, Tom.

GODELL: We often hear UK described as a land-grant university. What does that mean to you and the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment? And how are you addressing that mission today?

COX: Thank you for that question. Our concept for the land-grant university was formed in 1862. And the idea was that we would, as a country, have a broader education for our citizens. It was centered at first on agriculture and mechanical arts, but it was also strongly focused on making an education for the common man and improving the communities in which they lived. Fast forwarding to today, more than 150 years later, we still believe every day in the land-grant concept. And a lot of that is: each day needs to be better than the day before. We're always trying to change. We're always trying to improve our services. Our services started out more to the farmer, and now they are the community and families all across our state.

GODELL: Obviously one of the university's primary roles is to educate students. Can you talk a bit about the students in those 14 academic units?

COX: We have about 2500 undergraduate students, and we like to say that you can find almost any major within our college. We have over 25 different majors for our students. Our students tend to be very practically-oriented. They do internships or experiential learning with all their majors. That said, we have a lot of students who go on to professional school, veterinary school, medical school, and law school.

GODELL: Eastern Kentucky, rightly so, gets a lot of attention at UK and elsewhere. But I noticed that you've got a bit of a focus on the western side of our state. And I was intrigued to read about your plan for a new Grain and Forage Center of Excellence in Princeton. That's near the Land Between the Lakes. What can you tell us about that?

COX: Well, we're very happy to be nearing completion of a Grain and Forage Center of Excellence in Princeton. It has been largely a renovation over some facilities that were built in the 1960s and ‘80s. That Center has always been designed to help the farmers of Western Kentucky, and we have a huge record for helping in terms of yields of grain crops, and the beginning of a good wheat program that still exists. And this Grain Center represents our renewal of that contract with the farmer in a very much more complex world where advanced technologies such as precision agriculture and water management, irrigation, information management, and artificial intelligence all come together.

GODELL: Princeton and Western Kentucky remind me that the college has extension offices in every county in the state. What kind of resources does it take to maintain facilities all over and what's the history of the extension service?

COX: The Extension Service has been in Kentucky since 1914. But we have an arrangement with counties such that the offices are owned by the counties. So we are very fortunate to be able to put personnel in all 120 counties. And it is a partnership between counties and UK that is envied across the nation, because it is one of the best, most trusting and interdependent partnerships with counties. So we have almost 400 agents across the state and another equal number of professional staff who help deliver programs. We are centered on the county's needs. We have just finished an assessment process for all the counties that involved over 50,000 responses to a survey and hundreds of interviews. So again, going back to that land-grant philosophy of trying to be better every day, we're always trying to improve our ability to serve those communities. And each community is different.

GODELL: This is kind of a sidelight on that, but interestingly enough, the original model for broadcasting at the University of Kentucky was to have radio stations in each of the counties in the state, broadcasting programming specifically for that county. So in a way you're doing that with the Extension Service. You're just not doing it over the radio.

COX: Yes. In 1929, the radio was a very good technology for disseminating information across the state. We have expanded those technologies of course, as we've had Internet and phones and other means of communication. But the radio was a cornerstone of our getting our programs and our information out.

GODELL: The first broadcast from the University of Kentucky campus took place 90 years from the first of April 1929. It featured a talk by a professor of agriculture and Ag was a regular component -- I think it was three days a week back in those early days of radio at UK. Now these days, your college is producing a lot of broadcasts and podcasts. So what should we be listening for from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment?

COX: We probably have a podcast or YouTube video on almost any subject you can think of. We have really moved away from print media into media that people can get on demand. If you're sitting at a soccer game, you can pull out your iPhone and watch a YouTube on how to put an ear tag and a cow or how to cook a healthy meal or anything in between.

GODELL: Veterinary Science is another part of your college and that includes a Veterinary Diagnostic Lab, not too far from the new WUKY studios. What kind of research goes on there?

COX: The Veterinary Diagnostic lab at UK. Its objective is to maintain a healthy and economically sound animal agriculture industry in Kentucky. And animal agriculture is very big here. We have the largest cattle herd east of the Mississippi for beef cattle.

GODELL: I did not know that.

COX: We do! And of course we're very, very prominent in the equine industry -- our signature industry. And most people don't know that the poultry industry has grown so fast in Kentucky that it's actually technically the number one agricultural industry in Kentucky. All three of those are animal industries, part of the economy. So if the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab does a good job, we are diagnosing disease, if it occurs, quickly enough to get the veterinarians and the caretakers and the producers informed so they can prevent losses. So we don't just do dead animals. We do a lot of testing of live animals, too.

GODELL: We can't possibly talk about all 14 units and all the other activities of your college in the short time that we have, but is there is there something significant that we've left out that we should talk about?

COX: I should probably also mention our unique facilities within Eastern Kentucky. We have a center called the Robinson Center for Appalachian Resource Sustainability, shortened as RCARS. And part of the programs we offer include a 10,000-acre forest. Our students, our clientele, get educated on sustainable forest production, wildlife management, and other factors that are very important to Eastern Kentucky. We also have special relationships with our extension offices so that we can tailor unique programs for that region. We also have a big extension program on cattle in Eastern Kentucky that has improved the quality of cattle herds in that region.

GODELL: And I know some environmentalists have been concerned about the future of the Robinson Forest. So that is something you consider to be an integral part of your college and your work?

COX: Very definitely. Yes.

GODELL: Well, thank you. Our guest has been Dr. Nancy Cox, Dean of the UK College of Agriculture. It's actually CAFE: the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment these days. And you can hear more of our conversation at WUKY.org. For WUKY, I'm Tom Godell.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai