MSU faculty seek to increase participation of women in agriculture with $94,000 USDA grant

Source: MSU

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics and United States Department of Agriculture show while women constitute less than 1 percent of the nation’s agricultural scientists, engineers, and policymakers, they occupy the majority, about 60 percent, of lower-paid agricultural jobs on America’s farms and ranches.

Six female professors at Montana State University and Flathead Valley Community College hope to increase the percentage of women agricultural scientists, engineers and policymakers by way of a $94,000 USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant, “Empowering Women in Agriculture.” The grant is funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Fields Program, a federal initiative that invests in a diverse 21st-century agricultural science workforce and aims to increase representation of women and minorities in American agriculture.

“Representation and participation by women is an incredibly important focus in 21st-century agriculture,” said Irene Grimberg, MSU professor of cell biology and neuroscience in the College of Letters and Science, and one of the grant’s six principal investigators. “It’s a privilege to administer the grant with my colleagues so that we can begin to explore how we can elevate and support a diversified agricultural workforce in Montana.”

In 2015, the USDA published a jobs report in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environmental sectors. The report’s strongest career projections are in agricultural science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, sustainable food and biomaterials. The report also cited a need to diversify America’s agricultural workforce.

According to project organizers, the central goals of the grant are threefold: integrate research and education to increase the participation of women in agriculture, prepare the next generation agricultural leaders in Montana and bring greater public awareness to the critical role of females in agriculture. According to the USDA, 34 percent, or 15,065, of Montana farmers are women.

The grant’s five other principal investigators are Tracy Sterling, head of the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences; Tracy Dougher, associate dean of the College of Agriculture; Jane Mangold and Lisa Rew, associate professors in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences who focus on a wide variety of weed and invasive plant ecology and management issues in range and agricultural systems; and Heather Estrada, associate professor and program director of agriculture at FVCC.

The grant’s investigators will provide an online two-credit course, “women in the agricultural workforce in the 21st century,” that targets freshman and sophomore students enrolled at institutions in the Montana University System. The course will be team-taught by Estrada, Rew, and Mangold.

Estrada said the course will highlight the diversity of roles and contributions by women currently working in agricultural careers in farming and ranching, research, Extension, administration, and marketing.

“The idea is to expose students to the incredible variety of agricultural workforce pathways and their associated rewards and demands, shared by women working in diverse roles in Montana agriculture,” Estrada said. “There are many career opportunities for young women besides production that don’t require farming or ranching background. When we developed the class, we wanted to facilitate communication between an older generation of seasoned professionals in agriculture and the current, or next, generation of women in agriculture for an opportunity to connect and empower each other.”

Agriculture is a very male-dominated STEM field, Estrada added. “The more we can explore and recognize the wonderful and diverse contributions of women in agriculture, the more we can think outside the box and find opportunities to contribute.”

The course will be offered through FVCC, but credits will be transferable to other institutions across the Montana University System. The grant covers two-thirds of the course’s tuition for students for the duration of the project, and Estrada said she hopes the course will be taught for many years to come.

The partnership between MSU and FVCC is particularly important, Sterling said, because it’s a sharing of resources in a rural, agricultural state, and it targets historically underrepresented students — those first-generation college students, American Indian students and non-traditional students who typically enroll in community colleges or two-year workforce programs.

“Community colleges are wonderful places to begin the call for a diversified workforce,” Sterling said. “We need to begin to look critically and deeply about all walks of life having something to offer, particularly in agriculture, if higher education is going to address global questions like water resources, climate change, and food production. Land-grants are the institutions of access, and it’s important we take a leadership role in actively recruiting the next generation agricultural workforce.”

Sterling, who managed New Mexico State University’s ADVANCE grant funded by the National Science Foundation, said the NSF-ADVANCE and USDA-WAMS programs share similar tenets of inclusion and support of women in higher education. Sterling also sits on the MSU President’s Commission on the Status of University Women, a 28-member commission created to study, evaluate and advise the president on issues related to diversity and gender equity at MSU.

“Gender equity and diversity are certainly not new issues,” she said. “However, they become increasingly important as we see several fields where there’s a small percentage or complete absence of women at the top levels of administration and management, especially in STEM fields.”

A second aspect of the grant is a statewide survey of Montana women who work in agriculture. Grimberg said the survey seeks to identify the women workers’ needs, aspirations and achievements. Its questions address pay inequity, women in leadership roles, entrepreneurial support, workplace characteristics, land and capital access, and principal roles in agriculture.

“The survey study is intended to gauge women’s dreams, aspirations, and expectations, in addition to their needs,” Grimberg said. “We don’t know what kinds of research, programs, and tools are needed to better support Montana women in agriculture unless we have some baseline data.”

In an effort to increase students’ real-life experience in agriculture, the grant provides a year’s funding for up to 10 paid interns. Interns will choose from five agricultural career paths to shadow an intern host, who is preferably a female agricultural professional in Montana.

In a culminating event, the grant’s project leaders plan to organize a two-day public summit of women in agriculture to be hosted at MSU that will include panels, student presentations, talks and discussions on women’s experiences in agriculture. The summit will include a photography contest and video presentations showcasing the diversity of jobs, journeys, and lives of women working agriculture. To increase public awareness of women’s contributions to Montana’s agriculture, a team from the MSU School of Film and Photography will produce a repository of video clips and interviews with students and women in agriculture.

Charles Boyer, MSU vice president of agriculture, said he’s thrilled to support the grant and its goal of diversifying the agricultural workforce.

“As we look to a robust 21st-century ag workforce that can meet the demands of global food security and safety through technology and science, we need to uplift, mentor and support every resource possible. That begins with women and minority populations,” Boyer said. “My hope is that Montana students from diverse backgrounds seriously consider the agricultural fields. We need them.”

Contact: Irene Grimberg, grimberg@montana.edu, 406-994-3151

MSU College of Ag seeks nominations for outstanding agricultural leader

The Montana State University College of Agriculture is seeking nominations for its outstanding agricultural leader award to honor during its 2017 Celebrate Agriculture event, set for Nov. 3-4 on the MSU campus.

The annual award honors those who have exhibited abundant leadership in Montana public service as an agricultural producer, industry advocate, agribusiness leader or as a friend of agriculture. The award is part of the college’s annual Celebrate Agriculture event, and awardees will be celebrated during the college’s Harvest Breakfast on Saturday, Nov. 4.

The award represents the important relationship between the land-grant mission and the agricultural community, according to MSU Vice President of Agriculture Charles Boyer.

“This award has a long and special history in the College of Agriculture, because it highlights the good work done by people who represent agricultural leadership in Montana,” Boyer said. “It’s also important for our students to see examples of the impact that agriculture, when combined with dedicated public service, can have.”

Successful award applicants will be: well respected in their agricultural community; actively involved in the agriculture industry with accomplishments that impact many; an industry leader or an upcoming, active and innovative producer; or have a lifetime of achievement in agriculture. Current MSU, state or federal employees will not be considered, except in the friend of agriculture category. Past MSU, state or federal employees need to have been retired for a minimum of two years and have shown service above and beyond their job requirements to be considered. Nominees who are not selected this year will be reconsidered the following year, but applications should be updated with current information.

In 2016, Jim Hagenbarth of Hagenbarth Livestock in Dillon won the award.

The deadline for nominations is Friday, Aug. 29, and forms should be received at 202 Linfield Hall, MSU, Bozeman, MT, 59717, by that date. Nomination forms may be downloaded at: http://agriculture.montana.edu/celebrateag/.

Celebrate Agriculture is an opportunity to celebrate the heritage of Montana agriculture and the impact that the land-grant tradition has on communities across the state of Montana, the nation and the world. The event includes a dinner hosting the college’s student scholarship award winners, a public breakfast and current agricultural-related research highlights. All events are free and open to the public. The MSU Department of Agricultural Economics and Economics will also host an outlook conference on Friday, Nov. 3. Details for the event are forthcoming.

MSU alum Norm Asbjornson donates $2 million to MSU’s Montana Plant Sciences Chair

BOZEMAN – Montana State University and the MSU Alumni Foundation announced today that longtime university supporter Norm Asbjornson has given $2 million in support of the Montana Plant Sciences Chair, the first endowed chair in the MSU College of Agriculture. The chair will formally be named the Winifred Asbjornson Plant Sciences Chair in honor of Asbjornson’s hometown of Winifred, where he grew up during the Depression.

Asbjornson’s gift brings the university to within $200,000 of its $5 million goal for the endowment. The gift also marks the beginning of the fourth year of the endowment’s five-year fundraising plan. MSU plans to meet the remaining $200,000 through private development, according to Kevin Brown, senior director of development with the MSU Alumni Foundation.

The Montana Plant Sciences Chair was conceived five years ago, when theMontana Grains Foundation and dozens of other Montana farmers rallied together to invest $1 million from their own pockets for grains-focused research at MSU. In the following two years, an additional $1.8 million was raised from Montana producers and agribusiness.

“The investment from Montana producers in this chair has been remarkable,” said Charles Boyer, MSU vice president of agriculture.

Farmers across the state continue to battle pests like the wheat stem sawfly and other abiotic stressors that damage wheat yields and threaten a sustainable agricultural economy, and Montana wheat producers must be vigilant in keeping their crops healthy and viable, Boyer added.

MSU – the state’s oldest and largest land-grant institution – joined the grassroots call to bring a world-renowned scientist to the university who would help Montana grain growers remain competitive and sustainable through research tailored specifically for Montana’s current and future challenges in production agriculture. Together, Montana’s agricultural community and MSU challenged themselves to raise $5 million dollars in five years to bring a permanent endowed plant science chair to MSU.

The chair has since grown into a vision for expanding statewide support for Montana’s grain growers with the help of MSU faculty and the Montana Grains Foundation, Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, Montana Grain Growers Association and a multitude of agribusinesses and grain producers.

Asbjornson, a 1960 mechanical engineering graduate from the MSU College of Engineering, said the future of food is in the hands of farmers. With that, he added, comes responsibility.

“We have a responsibility to support and invest in programs that can have enormous economic (impact) for Montana’s agricultural economy,” he said. “MSU understands how integral producers are to applied research for the state, and I’m excited to join the Montana agricultural community in support of this endowment.”

Asbjornson added that climatic, water, disease and pest threats will continue to stress Montana’s top crop, and that funds must be invested in technological research that produces top-quality wheat genetics for Montana growers.

Boyer said the endowment will allow the current Winifred Asbjornson Plant Sciences Chair, Hikmet Budak, MSU professor of plant sciences and plant pathology, to remain competitive in an integrative research program for Montana grains and find ways to strengthen the vitality of Montana wheat. Budak, who works closely with national and international advisory councils comprised of Montana farmers, agribusinesses, non-profit organizations and grower representative groups, said Asbjornson’s recent investment marks an important step for the chair’s future.

“The enormous generosity of Mr. Asbjornson will ultimately transform the ability of Montana grain growers to remain sustainable and profitable, from research provided by the state’s cornerstone land-grant institution, because it is led by and has partnered with Montana producers,” Budak said. “On behalf of MSU and our important partnership with Montana producers and Mr. Asbjornson, we’re honored to name this cooperative chair after the agricultural legacy that Mr. Asbjornson will undoubtedly leave. I’m honored to serve as the first Winifred Asbjornson Plant Sciences Chair and look forward to meaningful successes alongside all who have given to this program.”

Budak’s lab focuses on innovative wheat genetics and genomics in response to pests and abiotic stress while adding nutrient value to wheat. Most recently, Budak, along with a team of 14 international scientists, successfully sequenced and mapped the genome – or complete genetic code – of durum wheat. Budak`s team is currently working on sequencing DNA and RNA code of a Montana winter wheat cultivar, Yellowstone, with an international consortium. Budak said the data is the first step to understanding which genes are present in the local wheat genome. Harnessing this knowledge to produce higher-quality Montana durum and bread wheat lines will also increase resistance to pests, environmental stress and disease, he added.

Research advancements have major implications for Montana wheat farmers, according to Lola Raska, executive vice-president of Montana Grains Foundation (MGF). Raska said the endowment is a lifetime commitment to Montana grain producers.

“MGF has worked hard over the last four years to take a vision to a reality,” Raska said. “This has been a collaborative effort by our farmers, their organizations and supporting businesses, and it’s inspiring we’re so close to full endowment, thanks to Mr. Asbjornson’s investment and confidence in Montana agriculture.”

Dale Schuler, MGF president, said the endowment’s success was always meant to benefit the industry by way of being anchored to Montana farmers.

“For our donors, this project has been about investing in Montana agriculture,” said Schuler. “We know that the collaborative nature of the endowment is an advantage for Montana farmers, and MSU has proven adept at connecting research to our at-large society.”

Gary Broyles, owner of Broyles Farms, Inc. in Rapelje, said he believes the chair’s research impact will transfer to other areas of food production.

“What’s wonderful about a program like this is that it has every potential to transcend beyond grains research,” Broyles said. “When you have the building blocks at the genome-sequencing level, it provides a pathway to other areas like nutrition and producing protein for a global food supply, so that the foundational programs in agriculture are in tandem with another.”

Asbjornson, who grew up in a one-room, 800-square-foot house, is the founder and CEO of AAON, a NASDAQ-traded heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) manufacturer based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with annual revenues of $400 million and more than 1,800 employees. In 2004, he received an honorary doctorate in engineering from MSU and the Montana Board of Regents.

Asbjornson has funded five endowments with the MSU Alumni Foundation, four of which are scholarship endowments and one that focuses on rural education initiatives through the Winifred Asbjornson Rural Education Initiatives Fund.

In addition to Asbjornson, names of the supporters of the Winifred Asbjornson Plant Sciences Chair can be found at msuaf.org/pscdonors.

Contact: Kevin Brown, senior development director, MSU Alumni Foundation, kevin.brown@msuaf.org or (406) 994-4815

MSU selects new vice president, dean of agriculture

Charles Boyer MSUBOZEMAN – Charles Boyer from California State University, Fresno, has been chosen to lead the College of Agriculture and the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station at Montana State University.

Currently dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Boyer will begin his new role as MSU’s vice president of agriculture and dean of MSU’s College of Agriculture on Dec. 15.

“As the state’s land-grant university, MSU is committed to enhancing and strengthening our partnership with agriculture, the No. 1 industry in the state. Dr. Charles Boyer’s vast experience advancing research, teaching and service, as well as his success working with producer groups and his successful fundraising track record, make him an outstanding choice to lead these efforts,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado.

Boyer said he anticipates working closely with the agriculture community at MSU and throughout the entire state. “I look forward to the opportunity to build on the strong partnerships between MSU and the agricultural community,” Boyer said. “These partnerships are already strong, and they will benefit us all as we work together to find new ways to serve the agricultural community of Montana.”

MSU elevated its dean of the College of Agriculture to a vice presidential position earlier this year, in recognition of its importance to the state’s economy and the MSU mission. The new vice president of agriculture will lead the College of Agriculture and Montana Agricultural Experiment Station.

MSU’s College of Agriculture has approximately 1,028 students with 11 bachelor degree programs, nine master degree programs and four doctoral degree programs from five departments and one division. Historically, it has been among the top three MSU colleges in terms of research activity. The Montana Agricultural Experiment Station conducts research at seven research centers strategically located across the state to address the diverse climatological challenges of Montana’s agriculture industry.

Boyer earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Eastern Oregon State College and a master’s degree and doctorate in genetics, both from The Pennsylvania State University.

In 2006, he was named dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at California State University, Fresno. Prior to the appointment, he served as associate dean and associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, College of Agricultural Sciences, at Oregon State University; as professor and head of the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University; as chairman of the Intercollege Graduate Program in Genetics at The Pennsylvania State University; as professor and associate professor of plant breeding and genetics at The Pennsylvania State University; and as assistant professor of horticulture at Rutgers University.

Boyer takes over from Glenn Duff, who has been interim dean and director since Jeff Jacobsen stepped down in September 2013. “The College of Agriculture was in very good hands with Dr. Duff, and we’d like to thank him for his service,” Cruzado said.

Boyer was selected after a national search conducted by a 22-member search committee that was composed of industry and academic representatives. The committee was chaired by Brett Gunnink, dean of the MSU College of Engineering.

“MSU thanks Dr. Gunnink and all of the members of the search committee for their exceptional work throughout this search,” Cruzado said.