Monday, October 4, 2010

Study: Agriculture is a $3.5B business

In spite of being the fourth most densely populated state in the country, Connecticut's agriculture industry is still going strong.

According to a UConn study, Economic Impacts of Connecticut's Agricultural Industry, agriculture is a $3.5 billion industry in Connecticut, contributing to the state's $212 billion gross domestic product in 2007. It also provides over 20,000 jobs and takes up 13 percent of the land in the state. Two-thirds of the jobs generated are from farming. The study was led by Rigoberto A. Lopez, professor and department head of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

The study used direct sales numbers for the agricultural industry in 2007, the most complete set of information available. It defined agriculture as crops and livestock production, forest production, and the processing of the state's agricultural production. Landscaping, veterinary services, and food processing involving products from outside the state were not included.

Professors and research assistants at the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UConn authored the report with help form the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis. The study was coauthored by a graduate student, Chen Zhu.

"Students play a critical role in research at our department and college," Lopez said. "Our graduate students are integrally engaged in research projects, particularly funded ones."

According to Lopez, without students, especially graduate students, it would be harder to conduct extramurally funded research programs. Also, with more research, doctoral programs are ranked higher. Several doctoral programs at UConn are in the top 25 percent in the nation.

According to Gregory Weidemann, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UConn is the only college in Connecticut that conducts serious agricultural research. The only other group in the state that conducts agricultural research is the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, which is a separate state agency.

Research at UConn can play an important role in shaping policy in Connecticut. A 2008 University study on the dairy industry in Connecticut, which valued the industry at $1 billion, resulted in legislation in Connecticut to support dairy farms.

One of the important impacts of the Economic Impacts of Connecticut's Agricultural Industry study is that it will raise awareness for the importance of agriculture in the state, thus shaping future state government policy, such as tax breaks or subsidies, toward the agricultural industry.

UConn, which was founded as an agricultural school, devotes 14 percent of its research budget to agricultural research. Much of the research at UConn is focused on high value added agriculture, nurseries, biotechnology, food distribution and manufacturing instead of field crops such as in universities in the Midwest.

Much of the agricultural research in the U.S. is conducted by the public universities so UConn is also part of a bigger picture of agricultural research by universities in the country.

"At some point UConn has either directly conducted research for nearly every entity engaged in agriculture or related enterprises or our research has benefited them in some way," Weidemann said.

So how do you benefit from agricultural research done by students and professors at UConn? Dean Weidemann has an answer: "Every student benefits from our research every time they eat!"

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