As president of the Noble Research Institute, I am often asked: "How do the consultation and educational work of the Agricultural Division fit together with the plant science research conducted at the Noble Research Institute?"
My answer generally begins with the reason for the Agricultural Division.
For almost 60 years, the Agricultural Division has been the cornerstone of the Noble Research Institute. It was the first division Lloyd Noble, our founder, established, and its core programs - consultation, demonstration, research and education - directly relate to one of Noble's reasons for creating the Noble Research Institute: assisting regional farmers and ranchers.
In the past two decades, the Noble Research Institute has delved deeply into fundamental and translational plant science research on forage crops to improve and enhance future agriculture and identify new agricultural opportunities. Among their many valuable projects, these scientific groups have led an international effort to explore the genome of Medicago truncatula as a model plant for legumes, specifically alfalfa, which holds great significance for agricultural producers. They are also breeding improved varieties of forages, including switchgrass, for use in the emerging biofuels industry. Because these scientific programs are on a national and international stage, they tend to receive considerable outside attention and rightfully so.
Still, the men and women of the Agricultural Division remain integral to the Noble Research Institute's mission and purpose. The regional focus of their work may provide them less national visibility, but they carry our founder's spirit. Lloyd Noble possessed a true passion for the agricultural producers in our region. Likewise, the Agricultural Division remains vigilant to its mission of assisting farmers and ranchers to achieve their financial, production, stewardship and quality-of-life goals.
As the Noble Research Institute has grown, so has the Agricultural Division. What began with a handful of specialists now has more than 70 personnel representing a growing breadth of expertise. Using their knowledge, Agricultural Division staff members have never been more important and interactive than they are today, filling a new and progressive niche. While maintaining a consultation relationship with more than 1,500 farmers and ranchers - more than at any time in Noble Research Institute history - the division conducts its own applied research program in support of these consultation efforts and provides a valuable asset to the Noble Research Institute's plant science researchers.
The Agricultural Division has become important to our scientific programs. It plays a significant role in the Noble Research Institute "development pipeline," a term we use to describe the coordinated movement of innovation and discovery through our three operating divisions to effectively move plant science discoveries from the laboratory to the field. This interaction is what distinguishes the Noble Research Institute from many otherwise similar research institutions.
The Agricultural Division uniquely "primes" the pipeline with new ideas and challenges that confront the region's agricultural producers. It is the identification of such challenges that often causes the wheels of innovation to turn. The two scientific divisions then perform research that ranges from fundamental gene investigation to improved breeding methods, and establishment and management programs. Then, because of the Agricultural Division's in-field experience, hands-on knowledge and personal relationships with the regions' producers, they can effectively deliver new innovations to the field for production-scale evaluation and study, and, ultimately, on to the intended users.
As I have opportunities to visit with other institutions and organizations interested in the work of the Noble Research Institute, the Agricultural Division's skills and experience are routinely brought to my attention as one of the Noble Research Institute's greatest advantages. We hear similar comments from new plant scientists that are recruited to the Noble Research Institute - the access to experienced agricultural specialists, land resources and actual agricultural producers is beneficial and valuable to their research.
I say all these things to make this single statement: the Noble Research Institute has a unique, integrated approach to agricultural enhancement that depends equally on each of its operating divisions to assist in fulfilling its charitable purpose and mission. While each of the programs and operating divisions is alone truly outstanding, it is their coming together and their interaction that sets this institution apart from its peers.