Assembly Ag Hearing

University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Feb. 23, 1996

Assembly Agriculture Committee Hears Testimony

By LeAnne Olson Huntrods
UW-River Falls News Bureau

The Wisconsin State Assembly Committee on Agriculture heard over three hours of testimony from students, graduates, faculty and staff at UW-River Falls on Feb. 22.

The public hearing was conducted to provide an opportunity for students and faculty to speak to legislators about issues and concerns relating to programs at UW-River Falls, employment prospects and the future of agriculture.

Committee Chair Al Ott (R-Forest Junction) said that he hoped the students would share their "youthful enthusiasm for agriculture" with the committee during their testimony.

Approximately 20 College of Agriculture students addressed the legislators. Many who testified stated that accessibility of instructors and "hands-on learning" were keys to the success of the college. One of the major themes conveyed by the students was the importance of state-of-the-art technology in their education.

Anne Nelson, a senior geology major from Hudson, said "one frustration was the lack of instrumentation in labs that is so important to applying the classroom theory."

The benefits of experience with computer technology and access to computers was a recurring theme throughout the hearing.

Mike Wachtendonk, a senior animal science major from Seymour, asked the legislators to support a proposal for a new dairy teaching center on campus. Larry Baumann, associate professor of animal science, indicated the University has a proposal before the Board of Regents for an 80-cow, free-stall milking facility.

According to Baumann, the existing facility was built in the late 1950's. He said that it would be more cost-effective to build a new facility than to remodel. Faculty have a desire to incorporate management practices, such as sand bedding and different feeding systems like total mixed rations, which can not physically be done in the current facility.

Ken Sipple, a 1964 graduate, and a college advisory board member and Agriculture Alumni Association president, said that when budgets are restricted, access to post-secondary education is restricted. He also said that there are more jobs and opportunities in agriculture than available graduates. "Therefore, we need to support the enthusiasm of these students."

Bonnie Van Dyk, a College of Agriculture graduate and assistant vice president of marketing at Farm Credit Services, said that there is a very good network between the professors on this campus and agribusiness. Van Dyk said we are "relationship lenders and the faculty in the College of Agriculture are relationship educators."

Assistant Dean Terry Ferris explained the benefits of the college's internship program. "The students get technical, business and interpersonal experience. The employees get motivated students with technical backgrounds. And the faculty get one of the best faculty development programs the University has as they interact with industry."

Katrina Larsen, director of the extended degree and distance education program, shared some of the successes the college has had in securing funding from USDA Challenge Grants for distance education. Recently the college, in cooperation with UW-Platteville, UW-Stevens Point and UW-Madison, has been awarded two grants to train faculty to use distance education facilities.

Larsen said, "Next year we'll be offering an agriculture education class to Platteville, we'll receive an agriculture law course from Madison and a waste management course from Stevens Point. This is a way to share the faculty expertise of our universities."

Due to limited time not all people were able to testify. But Ott asked those who were not heard to share their topics with the committee by writing or calling them. He said he hoped "the message came out that we are here because we do care about the support of agriculture education in the state."

The legislators also toured the college's facilities. They viewed equipment obtained for food biochemistry and soils laboratories purchased with funds from the legislature for lab and classroom modernization.

They also saw the agriculture engineering computer-aided drafting laboratory, the food science pilot plants, and visited the state-of-the-art greenhouse where a tour was given by students.

The legislators also visited the campus laboratory farm where they saw the existing dairy and equine facilities.

Dean Gary Rhode said he was "pleased with the testimony and comments from students and faculty on the education program successes and needs."

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