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Looking Back, Moving Forward

Posted May 1, 2009

As Wadell Altom mentioned last month in his Ag News and Views article, his retirement as Agricultural Division Director was effective April 1, 2009. He is now spending time traveling and enjoying his grandchildren. I wanted to take this opportunity to do two things. First, to express appreciation to Wadell for his dedication and service to the Foundation and agriculture in general. Secondly, I want to establish some challenges and opportunities that, thanks to Wadell's leadership, we are prepared to tackle as we go forward.

Wadell retired after 42 years of service to the Noble Research Institute. Yes, I said 42 years. That type of dedication is rarely seen today. In fact, 47 of the 82 employees in the Ag Division today are younger than 42. It is obvious that when nearly 60 percent of our employees were born after Wadell's tenure began, we are losing an irreplaceable reservoir of experience and historical perspective. While we get enamored with the future and all the things we want to accomplish, we first must remember what our founder, Lloyd Noble, envisioned for the Foundation. We must also know where we have been and what we have achieved. Articulating these past challenges and accomplishments was one of Wadell's strengths. I hope that we paid close enough attention to accurately frame the past as he discussed the early days of a single consulting team (we now have four teams) and of specialists (now known as consultants) performing the day-to-day operations on our farms (we now have over 30 support staff whose sole responsibility is to perform operational support for research and farm activities).

While our history makes us strong, the future will determine our success. We have significant and unique resources available today. Four multi-disciplinary consultation teams, a multidisciplinary team of agricultural researchers, an unparalleled support staff, great equipment resources, over 12,000 acres of research farms and ranches, a Forage Improvement Division, a Plant Biology Division and strong, unwavering support from our administration and Board of Trustees are key components in an agriculture-based discovery and information dissemination program that is truly unique.

Being unique, however, is not enough. Agriculture is changing at an unprecedented pace. With over 6.7 billion people on our planet, the need for agricultural products continues to grow. Unfortunately, the available land on which to produce these products is shrinking. That is a true paradox. Technology and methodologies must continue to be developed and refined to increase production per unit of input. We must also do this in such a way that producers' livelihoods remain viable - another paradox. We recognize that these challenges lie ahead and are committed to focusing our expertise and resources on the pursuit of discovery and technological advances. Solutions must be practical for producers and able to keep them economically viable as we attack the demands and challenges facing agriculture.

Thanks to Wadell and all those who have come before us at this organization, we are uniquely positioned to lead this charge.