AgriLife Conference looks at past, present, future of agriculture

Writer: Laura Muntean, 979-847-9211, laura.muntean@ag.tamu.edu 

COLLEGE STATION – The 2019 Texas A&M AgriLife Conference commenced recently at the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center in College Station.

Dr. Patrick Stover delivers welcome from the podium at the AgriLife Conference.

Dr. Patrick Stover, vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of AgriLife Research, opens the 2019 AgriLife Conference. (photo by Texas A&M AgriLife)

The conference brought together all Texas A&M AgriLife agencies  — Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, Texas A&M Forest Service and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences — for awards and recognition opportunities as well as an update on all agencies.

The week-long conference began with a welcome to the more than 500 attendees from Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, who introduced the major accomplishments of the agencies and the responsibilities that come with being a top contender in such specific fields.

“You, these agencies, are on the verge of becoming the most important agencies in the entire state of Texas,” Sharp said. “Because of the reach that you have all over the state of Texas, because you are the only significant agency that touches 252 of 254 counties, all of a sudden, the state of Texas has figured out that we have this gold mine here.”

Dr. Susan Ballabina, Texas A&M AgriLife deputy vice chancellor, continued with a brief update from the vice chancellor’s office, including recognition of the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas; the Eye of the Storm report; and the approval of a new vice chancellor of disaster and emergency services, Chief Nim Kidd.

Ballabina also spoke about the increase in support of Healthy Texas statewide and with the Texas A&M Health Science Center, along with naming Greg Hartman as vice chancellor for strategic initiatives. She said there will be a move toward a social and behavioral research initiative to be put into place in the coming months.

Dr. Patrick Stover, vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of AgriLife Research, brought to light where the agencies are headed regarding the future of agriculture.

Stover told of his upbringing describing life as one of eight children in a rural household that never went to the grocery store and visited the farmer’s market only rarely due to their self-sustaining home practices.

His pursuit to use food and agriculture in an effort to improve quality of life, reduce health-care costs and sustain agriculture in Texas sets a strong platform for his vision for Texas A&M.

“This is really the equation that we have to solve: how we imagine a healthy agriculture system with healthy environments that benefit healthy people and healthy economies,” Stover said. “We must consider the entire food and agriculture value chain as we meet our mission.

“We have a presence in each and every one of these key areas of agriculture, across the entire value chain, from producers to consumers. We have to ensure that we strengthen our commitment to the full value chain in the urban, rural and international settings.”

Dr. Joshua Akey speaks as keynote.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Joshua Akey, director of Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University, spoke as the keynote to launch the conference. (photo by Texas A&M AgriLife)

Keynote speaker, Dr. Joshua Akey, director of Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics at Princeton University, spoke to what generations past can teach today. His talk centered around the ever-changing world of genomics and how taking a look at DNA today can explain the changes that have evolved over time, including the influence of past agricultural practices on the human genome.

“What I find really fascinating about DNA is the stories that it can tell us about our past,” Akey said. “We can also scan the genome and look for places that have been subject to positive selection or regions of the genome that helped our ancestors survive and reproduce.”

Taking a look at both past and present changes in agriculture, Stover plans to highlight the future by continuing to bridge the rural and urban divide. This will include continuing educational efforts through the Leach Teaching Gardens, Texas A&M expanding its urban footprint to bring an agricultural presence to the city and Texas A&M focusing on reaching Texans through all of its agencies.

“We have to continue to focus on this to ensure Texans have a deep connection, a deep appreciation of what agriculture means in their daily lives,” Stover said.

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