In the fast-paced world of production agriculture, producers are confronted with new challenges quicker than those problems can be solved through university research.
Land-grant universities are now taking a new approach to speed up the impact of their research on real agricultural problems. Managed research is just that, research managed to more quickly find solutions.
Bob Easter is the head of the department of animal science and professor of swine nutrition at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is one of the leaders of a managed research project undertaken by the university and the Illinois Soybean Program Operating Board.
The project involved 29 researchers from universities and private companies. It included study of the variation of soybean meal, characterization of the carbohydrates in soybean meal, an investigation of bioactive molecules in soybean meal and their effects on reproduction and carcass composition. Also part of the project are an investigation of the effects of soybean meal on pork quality and economic analysis of potential changes in domestic and global soybean meal markets. The project is entering its third year and has cost $2.1 million to date.
The committees that organize managed research work on multiple fronts. First, they worked with producers and the soybean board to identify the challenges to U.S.-grown soybean meal as a leading protein source for swine. Secondly, they recruited industry-leading scientists to conduct the research.
Those specific researchers targeted specific and complex issues, Easter explains.
"It is not just genetics or nutrition or engineering or meat science or disease," he says. "The solution requires integration across disciplines."
In some ways, managed research is a return to the traditional land grant university research and extension, says Steve Sonka, director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"Our managed research efforts focus on conducting excellent science that applies to the problems of producers and their customers," he says.
The project has an external advisory committee to ensure that only the highest standards of science are used, Easter says. He stresses that managed research directs to course of study, not the results.
"Managed research ensures that specific objectives, defined by an appropriate means, are addressed efficiently," he says. "The quality of the science is insured by the review of each project by a competent, non-biased external advisory committee."
The goal is to knock down bureaucratic obstructions and narrow the widening gap between academia and producers.
"The conversation is between the people who have the problem and the people who have the potential for the solution," Easter says.
The results of the managed research project have been submitted to the Journal of Animal Science. Complete reports are available at the project web site: www.nsrl.uiuc.edu/swine.html.