MOUNT VERNON, Ill. — Anthony Studer wants to put his genetics laboratory results into Illinois farmers’ hands in what he calls the intersection of research and extension.
He’s so excited about it that he put that idea at the forefront of a $10 million competitive grant request on behalf of the University of Illinois to the USDA. He’s now waiting for federal officials to clear up business from the federal shutdown and make a decision.
“There’s nothing sinister about agriculture,” he said. “We’re working on a data infrastructure to communicate our research. We want to integrate technology into how we communicate and do it in a transparent manner.”
Studer is an associate professor of plant genetics at the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. He works with as many as 30 students in what is known as the Studer Lab, most recently studying genetic improvements on corn for sustainable production.
His grant proposal made the cut as one of the top 15 percent submissions out of 400 requests.
“I feel really good about this,” he said in late January at an Illinois Extension Crop Management Conference in Mount Vernon. “There are huge stakes. This is about sustainable maize production and transferring research out with the idea that it’s expandable in the future.”
What Studer envisions is working with Illinois’ Supercomputing Lab staff and its students to work with him and his students to build a giant database of commodity crop genetic variety trials. Once online, the farmers can then freely access the science-based database information to help in their decision-making process.
Another element to this proposal that Studer also finds exciting is the equal emphasis on education, research and extension, all which are required components for this particular grant.
“We need to do a better job transitioning from the lab to the field,” Studer said, adding that communication is key to making this transition.
Studer’s grant is allowed by the 2018 farm bill, which contains a provision calling for the Extension Design and Demonstration Initiative. Its purpose is to encourage the design of adaptive prototype systems for improving extension and education that seek to advance scientific discoveries and other agricultural research. The use of this research would then be delivered by digital or other platforms for use in food, agricultural and natural resources practices and technologies.
His proposal also fits within ACES Dean Kim Kidwell’s own vision to turn the university’s state Extension service a model for the nation. One of the first steps toward that was Kidwell’s naming in early January of temporary Extension director Shelly Nikols-Stephenson as the permanent director.
“Dean Kidwell is out front of this, too,” Studer said. “This proposal also highlights that extension is vital to agriculture. That’s why the grant has required components on education, research and extension. Most of those 400 applications did not include an extension component.”