Funding for agricultural research at land-grant colleges has been declining from industry and state sources. Much of today’s research is being funded by large grants that are devoted to federal government priorities.
I heard that attendance at this year’s Range Beef Cow Symposium (RBCS) this week in Rapid City, SD, was below expectations. That might not be surprising if you consider that the RCBS tends to be a drive-in type of meeting, and area producers were ravaged by one of the worst blizzards in history a couple of months back. In addition, the area is in the thick of a bitter cold snap that moved in at meeting time. Not surprisingly, some producers might have opted to stay at home and button down their operations for the weather.
But the cynical side of me says that there are other factors at work as well. The RCBS is a rotating conference held every two years; the program is a collaboration between Extension personnel in four states – South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado.
The conference has been well attended in the past as the production information historically has been sector-focused and deep. However, a poor attendance at a meeting like this might raise questions about our land-grant university system, and the relative influence it has on livestock production these days.
There is no doubt that the world is changing; information exchange within the industry is far more rapid and widely disseminated today than previously. So much of the information presented at these types of meetings isn’t new in the sense that producers likely have already heard or read the information.
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Additionally, funding of research from within the industry or via state sources has been declining. As a result, much of the research today is being funded by large grants that are devoted to federal government priorities. Those drivers might be important in the long term, but factors such as product healthfulness, sustainability, or economic footprint and impact don’t generate the same type of enthusiasm as the smaller projects that tended to relate to improvement in day-to-day management decisions.
Perhaps it’s that the low-hanging fruit has already been harvested. Or maybe it’s the shift in the focus of the research that’s being done today. Or it’s simply the advancements in the speed of information dissemination made possible by modern technology. But I tend to think that the primary reason many producers attend these large conferences is more about networking than information collection.
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