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150 Years of Growing Innovations


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It's that time of year again when many of Nebraska's farmers reap the fruits of their labor over the past growing season. However, this year, the drought has presented new challenges. Record temperatures and a lack of rain will likely yield a smaller harvest relative to recent years.

Farmers and ranchers are resilient folks, able to weather whatever nature throws at them. And this year will be no different. Their work is becoming increasingly significant as they provide food, feed and fuel to a growing global population. The daunting task of providing sustenance to a world of more than seven billion people requires ag producers in places like Nebraska to become more efficient than ever before, even in the face of Mother Nature's greatest challenges.

Schools like the University of Nebraska (NU) are leading research efforts to help our farmers and ranchers meet these challenges. Last week the university celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which established the nation's land-grant educational institutions. This landmark policy led to the creation of a network of colleges and universities across the country that still provides innovative research to address today's challenges. I joined three other former U.S. secretaries of agriculture Friday in Lincoln to discuss these challenges and what university research is doing to improve ag production.

At the university's Agriculture Research and Development Center near Mead, Neb., research is underway to develop drought-, pest- and disease-resistant crops to combat changing environmental factors. The nearly 9,700-acre facility is also home to more than 7,000 head of livestock. Ag producers are able to apply ongoing science to their own operations through programs across the state, where they work directly with researchers to generate results in real-world settings. The discoveries and developments here will improve outcomes in fields and pastures in Nebraska and around the world.

University research is helping to find new ways to produce more food with less water, an endeavor of growing importance during times of drought and for places with less-abundant water supplies. I recently visited the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, which has played an important role in tracking the current drought conditions throughout America and suggesting adaptive techniques for drought-stricken farms and ranches.

Ag research efforts are important to improve ag efficiency and manage risks before these risks become crises. And as harvest continues, Washington has a role to play in ensuring the ongoing successes of our farmers and ranchers. We have a responsibility to provide risk management tools to an industry where a single afternoon storm could mean the difference between a bountiful harvest and a dismal yield. That's why it is so imperative that Congress pass a long-term farm bill with drought assistance for livestock producers and strengthened crop insurance. Just as Congress spurred research to generate innovations in agriculture 150 years ago, we must ensure producers have the risk management tools to effectively operate today. Our farmers and ranchers need the certainty of updated policy. And we all depend upon their success to provide food and energy for a growing world.

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