A Conversation about the “Why” of Our Agricultural Centers for Arizona Agriculture
By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau: What we do here with arid-land research, if we do it right, could serve as a model for the rest of the globe and for world stability.
The following article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Arizona agriculture. We make it available to a broader audience here to discover the value and importance of agriculture research and development in the university system.
Each time I drive to the Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC) on the former Fred Enke place, a flood of memories come racing back, including remembering when dad was the center’s first hire as farm manager back in 1983. I
Our discussion centered around agricultural research that’s valuable to Arizona’s agriculture, but transferrable and translatable to the globe, certainly in arid conditions like our desert state.
U of A's Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC) Director Rick Ward, seen here with Pat Murphree, hopes to maximize the number of partnerships for MAC. Note the bronze bust to the right of the photo: Bart Cardon, formerly dean of the UA College of Agriculture was largely responsible for the development of the UA Maricopa Agricultural Center, which earlier had earned international acclaim as
Dad presented us with some history of MAC’s beginning highlighting what professors and others regularly said: “It’s often been referred to as a jewel in the desert.”
“The center came into existence in an era when biotech in agriculture began emerging and other technologies in farming were taking hold,” said Murphree. “For the demonstration farm, we grew cotton, alfalfa,
Dad remembers when the international community came to MAC. They came to see the
While our meeting’s agenda was meant to learn about the Center’s future from the Dean and Rick Ward, they asked dad for an understanding of its past, certainly recognizing that history serves as a foundation for the future. And history can set aspirations to scale to greater goals. If so, that moment may be now.
“We’d like to recapture this being considered the place in the world where we should be doing arid-land research because while there are other places that have the kind of environment or climate pressures we have,” says Dean Burgess, “they don’t have our political stability and/or resources. We now have a world expert in tackling large-scale problems in Rick Ward running MAC.”
So, who is Rick Ward? With a Ph.D. in agronomy, Rick Ward worked as an international maize breeder between 1981 and 1988 with CIMMYT and Pioneer Overseas Corporation. He was CIMMYT's first staff to be posted to Zimbabwe where he built the Mid-Altitude Maize Research Station and started breeding there in 1985 to 1988. During that time he helped Malawi's agricultural research system transition to semi-dent maize hybrids.
From 1989 until 2006 he held a
While at MSU, he taught Plant Genetics, Plant Breeding, and Quantitative Genetics. He also helped design and manage the “Wheat 2000” project that led to
Ward also helped launch the Global Rust Initiative. He left MSU to return to CIMMYT-Mexico in 2006 to help develop the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded, Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat DRRW project. Ward worked for Cornell during the launch phase of the DRRW and then returned to CIMMYT in 2010 to work first in Afghanistan and then Pakistan, where he helped design and manage the Pakistan Wheat Productivity Enhancement Program funded by USDA. Ward co-developed the new Agricultural Innovation Program for Pakistan that is also funded by USAID.
As the Director of the Maricopa Ag Center at the University of Arizona, he holds one of two Bud Antle Endowed Chairs in the CALS’ School of Plant Sciences. In this context, Arizona Agriculture visited about the future of Arizona agriculture, our agricultural research
Arizona Agriculture: What can we expect from U of A’s agricultural centers; specifically Big MAC?
Burgess: Our vision is that we take Big MAC and it becomes one of the globally recognized research centers for arid agriculture, just like it has been in the past. But that’s just the big picture. Actually, we’re restarting with “why” this center is important. These research centers are about today’s problems.
Ward: As an organizer, I like to focus on bringing stakeholders together. I like to define the problem, see who needs to be
And, if one wonders whether these centers are important, consider what’s going on in other parts of the world. If a wheat crop fails in Pakistan where the largest contiguous irrigated agriculture lands -- 36 million acres -- exists you’re going to think the first 10 years of this century were peaceful -- I’ve discussed this with U.S. Ambassadors and U.S. Generals. The Department of Defense
This is about whether you want your grandchildren in uniform overseas or not. We need 60 percent more calories and protein by 2050 and at the current rate of
Regarding MAC and our ag centers in general, the key in all of this is the land here and where it is and the irrigation systems infrastructure, the proximity to Phoenix, the fact that we’re part of a network of Agricultural Centers -- Yuma, Safford, Tucson, V-Bar-V – and if you went broader, the imperial valley and elsewhere in the southwest and even further Mexicali and Cd. Obregon, collectively we represent a diverse array of agriculturally relevant land-based ag centers that are hubs of innovation and knowledge dissemination.
In the last few
South, East and Southeast Asia is the region of the world that is the mother of all recharges. For example, my take on why China wants Tibet is because it’s the water tower for half the human beings on the planet. The mountainous headwaters of the Yellow, Mekong,
But what I’m excited by is these seven western states and the federal government actually have done a pretty good job of working out managing this water since the 1920s. As I learn more about Arizona I discover there’s been serious and successful effort put into water management, and this is not as evident in other regions of the world. Yet the current crisis in
Murphree: Years ago when my dad worked for Doc
Arizona Agriculture: If seen this way, we are in greater need for these agricultural centers than ever before, right?
Burgess: Well, getting back to what Rick said earlier and the reasons for Rick being here, the lessons he can bring us are fundamentally about keeping Americans out of uniform. This is the first time ever, I think, in the country, but certainly in Arizona, that we’ve had an academic chair-holder as a director of a Hatch Act Experiment Station unit and especially an agricultural center. Never before been done. That’s because I want this center to be the leading ag center of its type in the country where Rick’s kind of job is demonstrating that the future is about thought leadership first and ag center management second. And, the only reason for this place to exist is to make a significant impact for Arizona, for the United States and for the world. We’re going to do it with an Arizona focus. We’re not working for the world, we’re not working for America, we’re working for Arizona.
The final thing I’d like to say is don’t forget that the global middle class is going to double between now and 2030 – including middle-class consumers for Arizona’s products. We’re not an export ag state, we’re an export food state. And, we’ve got our biggest trading partner just south of us.
Arizona Agriculture: And, if we’re talking arid-lands agriculture research, we’re certainly talking about water.
Ward: Yes. I visited the Maricopa-Standfield Irrigation & Drainage District. In my learning curve that visit was a quantum jump. They have those huge maps in their office of 80,000 irrigated acres. I’ve worked in irrigated areas but it wasn’t my focus. My focus has always been the crop. Not the whole picture. When I sat with Brian Betcher and Grant Ward and Jim Hartigan it really clicked that this is an incredibly cooperative and complex [water management] system. Brian Betcher said, “I think that we have one of the most efficient irrigation districts in the world. Though I can’t really prove that.”
That led us to a discussion of whose measuring such things and how do you measure it. Well in the unit of study it’s an irrigation district. Factoring in the number of irrigation districts in Arizona, each one different including construction and other issues there is great potential for further learning. It got me to thinking that this is a level of granularity to compare and connect into a network
Let me be real clear, the world is fed by the private sector. Farmers are the private sector and even in the developing
So, we’re now approaching a crisis with 1,075 [water level] in Lake Mead. There is ever more
We need everyone at the table to resolve these water challenges. The
Burgess: What if MAC was run like the rest of this valley had to be run in 2020? We’d be here tomorrow even if the market crashes. That’s the point of funding this place to do research. Our job is to take that security and do things [
Arizona Agriculture: What are your plans then for MAC? What’s the “How?”
Ward: Right now we host research and extension field research on 450 acres. That leaves about 1,000 acres in fallow today. I want to see us employing as much of that fallow land in either small (150-square-feet or less per plot) or large (1-5 acre per plot) research. I want to maximize the number of partnerships – public and private, private and public – utilizing MAC’s facilities (including our gin, greenhouses, and labs), and enhance the Arizona university and community college system’s capacity to train and educate the next generation of scientists and ag and food workers. We will be key partners in global research projects funded by national and international organizations that aim to generate the knowledge, outreach, and training needed to adapt to and mitigate climate change and peak population. Under the leadership of Dean Burgess, CALS and MAC should be a bridge between mainstream agricultural interests and the municipal and industrial users of water and other shared natural resources in Arizona. Of
I have traveled the world in support of the application of science to the problems and opportunities in agriculture for over 33 years, and I know that MAC has a terrifically valuable role to play in the planet’s future. Just by working on our own issues locally, we generate knowledge and capacity that will contribute to that higher goal. I am convinced that the spillover benefits to U.S. National security will enable us to attract funding from the federal government that in turns multiplies the investment impacts of local funding.
One last vital point. MAC is host to the USDA-ARS Aird Lands Agricultural Center that houses 22 excellent scientists dedicated to the same problems we discussed above. Both USDA and UA want to dramatically expand our collaborations with each other in support of the local, regional, national and global issues we’ve discussed. This is a very exciting component of MAC’s present and future contributions.