The Awakening to the Water for Food Challenge

As I write this blog post, I am coming off of a very strong and high-quality dialogue of the 2014 Global Water for Food Conference convened by the University of Nebraska Daugherty Water for Food Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  This was the 6th Global Water for Food Conference, but the first to be held outside of Lincoln, Nebraska.  It was a rousing success with approximately 275 leaders from 32 countries around the world dialoguing for three days on the thematic topic of “Harnessing the Data Revolution” around water sustainability in agriculture and food.  The conference was also supported with sponsorship from Monsanto, Syngenta, the Daugherty Foundation, the Global Water Initiative, and the Nebraska Corn Board.

The theme of the conference around “big data” brought out a number of opportunities and challenges lying ahead in the “2050 challenge”.  While it is clear we are now entering the “big data” era around the globe in almost all industry and societal sectors, agriculture and water management has tremendous ground to cover to fully capitalize on what this will mean for enhanced water management and sustainable food production.  Already in the developed world we have seen tremendous changes occurring in precision-based agricultural systems in crop production, with some extension in to animal agriculture as well.  The realization of the production systems as portrayed in a video clip by John Deere from a mere three years ago is already happening in Nebraska and other major agricultural bread baskets of the world – where the farm business operator gets up in the morning in her or his headquarters home and goes to the control screen to make the day’s decisions on the grid for agronomic and risk management in a systematic and information / data-based manner using “big data”.  And, as we are all experiencing in our daily lives, we likely are only at the tip of the iceberg in this data and precision revolution for agriculture.

However, with that said, there remain huge gaps for us to fully capitalize globally on such data-rich decision making in real-time.  Translation of high-tech agriculture from large-scale to small-holder based agricultural systems across the most food insecure regions of the world remains a great challenge.  This is both in terms of populating the public databases necessary upon which to build the “big data” required (i.e. real-time weather and climate data, soil type and microbiome data, surface and groundwater data and fluctuations, nutrient management information, etc.) as well as making technology available within the contexts of political and social environments.  There was wonderful and rich discussion at the conference about both ends of the spectrum in these challenges and opportunities – including how cell phone use is beginning to be the platform through which much of this revolution can be enabled.

The Daugherty Water for Food Institute (DWFI), as originally envisioned by the late Bob Daugherty, along with J.B. Milliken, Mogens Bay, and Jeff Raikes – all current members of the board of directors of the Institute, has really begun to reach that vision under the leadership of Roberto Lenton and our still relatively new directors Christopher Neale (research), Nick Brozovic (policy), and Chittaranjan Ray (Nebraska Water Center).  The vision is indeed audacious to be the world’s epicenter for Water for Food research and policy – and I could not be prouder of how that is indeed beginning to be the case.  I have always heard that copying is the greatest form of flattery – and based upon the number of university and other NGO “water” programs being developed in the US and abroad at the moment – the vision in 2009 was “spot on”.

Through the work that our over 130 scientists continue to do focused on Nebraska water and agriculture challenges, coupled with the partnerships that DWFI has built over the past several years around the world including UNESCO-IHE, FAO, Indian Ag Research Institute, Jain Irrigation, USAID Middle East and North Africa Water Centers of Excellence, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Water Initiative, Global Harvest Initiative, Harvard Kennedy School, and the Lower Mekong Public Policy Initiative, the China Institute for Water and Hydropower Research, China Ag University, to name only a few, DWFI is really changing the world in amazing and impactful ways.  At the conference in Seattle this week, we added the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to that list of partners through a formalized agreement that was signed on site.  Welcome IWMI!

A special congratulations to Rachael Herpel and her team at DWFI and Underwood Events for such an impressively staged and organized event – it was hard work with tremendous planning and flawless execution capped with a wonderful dinner hosted at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) on the final evening where we had the opportunity to dialogue with Pamela Anderson, the head of global ag development for the BMGF.  It was a wonderful evening and I had the opportunity to congratulate Pamela and the BMGF team for their efforts, including that their current plan includes 20% of their portfolio devoted to enhancement of animal agriculture in their target regions of sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.   As I pointed out every chance I had at the conference, animal agriculture needs to be added significantly to the discussion of Water for Food given the expected increase of 40-60% in meat, milk, and egg production needed by 2050!

Washington, DC and the Nation are Taking Notice . . .

I also had the pleasure of traveling from Seattle to Washington, DC, with Suat Irmak, Eberhard Professor of Biological Systems Engineering.  While it was a late night for us getting from the west to the east coast, it is well worth it as this morning the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture recognized the Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network (NAWMN) with its National Partnership Award. This award specifically recognizes effective partnership teams that integrate the Land-Grant mission of research, teaching, and extension.  This is a HUGE and VERY WELL DESERVED honor that recognizes Dr. Irmak along with colleagues Gary Zoubek, Jenny Rees, and Brandy VandDeWalle from UNL Extension as well as Rod DeBuhr, Dan Leininger, and Daryl Anderson from the Nebraska NRDs for the phenomenal work they are doing with a network of over 1,100 farmers, the NRCS, and crop consultants across the state through the NAWMN.  It was with great pride that I stood with NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy and REE Undersecretary Cathie Woteki as they honored the team in this way.  Real impact on the ground from team effort benefitting all of Nebraska agriculture and natural resources – that is why they have been so appropriately singled out for this distinguished honor.  All of Nebraska and certainly all of the University of Nebraska shares in both the benefit and the sense of pride in this team for their amazing work.  A press release summarizing the award can be found here:  http://www.csrees.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2014news/10232_nifa_awards.html

Indeed, it appears the world is awakening to what we have long known in Nebraska – water for food is a fundamental gift and resource that deserves our utmost attention and passion in research, teaching, and translation extension.  A big shout out to all our faculty, staff, and partners around the globe who are making a difference through DWFI.  This is critically important, meaningful, and impactful work in which we are all engaged.  Thanks for making a difference.

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Global Engagment

I recently had the opportunity to engage with IANR partners in Vietnam, China, India, and Indonesia.  I often am asked why the University of Nebraska should be working in global engagement as we are the public land-grant university to serve the state of Nebraska.  While on the road on these visits and meetings from Sept 4-19, I was asked to author a column on this topic for the World Association of Animal Production.  I enjoyed putting these thoughts down on paper while in China and thought it would be good to share that with you here – hope you enjoy reading it and find it informative.

Living in 2014 but Thinking in 2050 The Importance of International Collaboration

Summary

The grand global challenge of the 21st century is to sustainably feed a growing global population expected to approach 10 billion within a few decades from now, the so-called “2050 challenge”.  This challenge is multi-faceted in that it requires considerable innovation and advancement in agricultural science and innovation to increase efficiency and output of farming and livestock production systems, while concurrently enhancing natural resource stewardship and sustainability with a reduced environmental footprint.  Combined with the expectation that a growing global socio-economic middle-class will increase demands for animal protein in the decades ahead, major scientific and technological innovation is required to successfully meet the 2050 challenge.  At the same time, attention must be paid to the significant current problem of food and energy wastage in the global food supply chain.  This challenge will not be met without breaking down of previous compartmentalization of scientific education and inquiry, both across subject matter areas of expertise as well as geographic and institutional boundaries.

The 2014 Landscape

Perhaps the greatest challenge of the 21st century is affordably meeting the food nutrient demands of a global population expected to surpass 9.6 billion people at mid-century while sustaining quantity and quality of planetary natural resources and biodiversity.  This challenge is exacerbated by the additional complexities of the current global demographic, including:  1) 1 in 7 of the current global population having insufficient access to adequate foodstuffs and healthy nutrition; 2) 90% of population growth expected to occur in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa where food production is already significantly challenged; 3) 70% of the world’s water withdrawals currently being for agriculture; 4) 1/3 of the world’s population being currently challenged in some way with water scarcity; 5) effects of climate variability and change expected to place further stress on the global food production chain during this time period; 6) up to 33% of current food falling in to the wastage category; and  7) increasing demand globally for dietary animal protein, ultimately expected to peak at mid-century with 3B more global consumers of meat, milk, and eggs than present today.  These realities collectively point to the need for urgent attention to technological innovation in the food production sector, particularly continued innovation of animal science, stewardship, and production systems with new emphasis on reducing the water  and natural resource footprint of meat, milk, and egg production.

Major advances in the agricultural and natural resource sciences over the past six decades have resulted in phenomenal and significant increases in efficiency of production of food, feed, and fiber.  These advances have allowed today’s global agricultural systems to more than meet total caloric requirements as global population has increased to today’s >7 billion people.  The most significant of these advances have been in enhanced animal and plant germplasm, development of increasingly sophisticated production technologies and systems, and in new and enhanced food processing technologies.

Considerable opportunity exists for scientific and technological innovation to improve agricultural and food systems – ultimately leading to “greater protein and energy production per unit of resource input”.  Perhaps the most promising areas for innovation are in development of climate and saline resilient crop and animal germplasm, better understanding and closing of the existing “yield gaps” existing in current crop and animal production systems, development and application of advanced conservation tillage methods coupled with precision and variable-rate irrigation technologies, enhanced understanding of the root zone and physiology of food crops, re-engineering of the rumen  and gut microbiome of meat and milk producing food animals to allow alternative feedstuff use in animal production, and innovation of animal and crop protection systems from mining of host-pathogen relationships.  All of these areas hold great promise for increasing efficiency of food production while concurrently increasing sustainability of water and other natural resource inputs.

The most serious obstacle to meeting these challenges is adequacy of collective public and private domain research and development funding within traditionally geographically and institutionally-defined boundaries.  While agricultural and food research funding investments have increased in a few places around the globe in recent years, notably China and Brazil, the general global trend has been the opposite (Pardey et al., 2013).  Given the gravity of the food and natural resource security global challenges lying ahead to 2050 and beyond, collaboration and cooperation across these boundaries has never been more important in order to better leverage existing and future research, education, and development resources.

Thinking Globally in Science and Education

Because higher education and research in agricultural sciences has largely been governed and driven by funding models from federal and state or provincial sources (e.g. the Land-Grant University model of the past 150 years in the United States), the motivation for research, education, and translational extension outreach has been directed largely to local boundaries and contexts.  This model and others like it around the world have a rich history of success and continue to have major impact in science and education.  However, more of the problems and challenges today are within an increasingly inter-connected global ecosystem and economy.  Additionally, a large percentage of the scientific work-force previously was heavily concentrated in the world’s major developed economies, in contrast to the world today where scientific talent and expertise is increasingly distributed across the planet.  This is a wonderful and great thing, but, requires different thinking in order to be successfully capitalized.

Such a global environment and set of challenges requires that our approaches change not only within countries and institutions (i.e. movement toward major problem-solving through multi- and trans-disciplinary research and education), but also cries out for large-scale international collaboration and discovery.  While we have seen a general trend in this direction over the past several decades, particularly around tool development (e.g. sequencing of livestock and other genomes) much more can and should be built.

As this paper is being written, I am in the middle of a two-week journey in Asia involving meetings and planning with institutional partners of the University of Nebraska.  We consciously believe that the challenges most important to our local geography in our own state of Nebraska are also international in their reach and have in the past 5 years developed a global engagement strategy for strategically linking with partners around the world who are focused on many of the same challenges in food and natural resource security.  These partnerships, spanning academic institutions, government ministries, and private industry, are principally in China, Brazil, India, the Netherlands, Turkey, and in parts of Africa and are heavily focused in the areas of water for food, plant and animal biotechnology, drought mitigation and prediction, and in food safety, processing and innovation.  On this particular trip we are working with partners in Vietnam, China, India, and Indonesia.

These international relationships, while they require substantial institutional commitment and work, are how we believe we will ultimately meet the 2050 challenge successfully by working together and further pulling from and spreading increasing amounts of human scientific talent around the world.  We also believe that our own local students from Nebraska and the U.S. will be considerably better educated by their interactions with students and collaborators from our partners in this collective work.

Organizations such as the WAAP, and its member societies, are well advised in their efforts to “internationalize” their missions and services to members in serving the greater animal sciences.  It has been wonderful to see this growth in international thinking and focus, with increasing percentages of my own American Society of Animal Science’s activities and publications coming from and focused on international education and research.

Synergistically working across international boundaries will serve to meet the 2050 challenge in global and natural resource security.  Animal scientists and animal production can lead the way.

References

Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  2014.  Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate.  Washington, DC, May 2014.

Pardey, P.G., J. M. Alston and C. Chan-Kang.  2013.  Public food and agricultural research in the United States:  The rise and decline of public investments, and policies for renewal. AGree Report, Washington, DC.

 

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Husker Sports Network Half-time Show

On September 20, I had the opportunity to join Interim NU President Jim Linder for the Husker Sports Network Half-time show during the Miami game.  You can listen to it here 

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Educational Media Update

As I have discussed in past months, UNL is implementing a $4.65M budget reduction.  This is a result of a carry-over deficit of $2M in fiscal year 2013 coupled with a $2.65M deficit that has been added in fiscal year 2014.  The administration proposed the deficit be eliminated primarily from a 1% reduction in the proposed 3% salary increase pool for all faculty and staff.  This would account for $3.2M of the amount required, leaving $1.45M to be distributed proportionally across the campus operating units.  Under our standing UNL policy, this means that IANR is responsible for covering 28%.

It was determined earlier this year that the budget reallocation will occur within our Educational Media Unit.  The budget reduction has made it necessary to reduce the breadth of the services offered, and thus requires a revised structure to ensure we can continue to connect our faculty and staff to the services they need while moving towards a completely digital platform for communicating with our constituents.

We are very sensitive to the fact that any time a budgetary adjustment process is done, there are ultimately people who are directly impacted by such change.  These individuals are our coworkers and part of the IANR team.  We have appreciated the roles they have served and hope they consider future employment with us if opportunities present themselves.  We are committed to getting this right for the long term, and I am confident the new model will put IANR in a better position than currently exists for communicating our story to the general public in a digital age.

In our revised structure, we will offer fewer services that we are able to cover with the remaining budget, and we are committed to providing those services in a timely manner with an excellent product.  We are currently developing a fee structure that will be announced at a later time.   The current fee structure will remain in place through the end of December.  Our changes are aimed at developing a culture of innovation, responsiveness, and integration with UComm and external providers for a number of other services and products we will no longer provide.

The redesigned group will support two areas, Outreach (two new positions) and Digital Development (existing video and app development internal providers).  Other services will be provided by UComm, or by external vendors.  We expect there will typically be an integrated blend of in-house, UComm, and external vendor services employed to meet client needs.

Two new positions (in outreach) will be added to the group to assist IANR clients in accessing UComm or external vendor services. A supervisory position will also be added that will provide oversight for the group, and will serve as the primary point of contact with clients.  All communication and work requests will go through this supervisory position.  More about the restructuring and these positions will be posted in the coming months.  The current structure, staff and services will be in place through the end of December.

A webinar is planned on October 8th to provide more details about the revised media group and about transitioning IANR websites to Drupal.  The webinar will be at 3:00 pm CDT, Wednesday, October 8, the link is: https://connect.unl.edu/ianrmedia/

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Heuermann Lecture – Sept 25

Just a reminder, our next Heuermann Lecture is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Sept 25 at Nebraska Innovation Campus.  The title of the lecture is “Understanding and Assessing Climate Change: Implications for Nebraska.” A 3:00 p.m. reception precedes the lecture.

Nebraska Innovation Campus is located at 2021 Transformation Drive.  Please enter at Gate 2 on 21st Street, off of Salt Creek Parkway.  Free parking is available north of the completed buildings.  For the lecture, enter through the courtyard area on the east side of the main building.  Look for the Heuermann Lecture signs.

There will be a free shuttle service leaving the Nebraska East Union at 2:45 and 3:00 p.m. transporting students to Nebraska Innovation Campus.  Shuttles will be available after the lecture to bring students back to East Campus.

If you are unable to attend in person, you can also watch it live at http://heuermannlectures.unl.edu.  The presentation will also be archived.

Earlier this week, I authored an Op-Ed on the importance of being engaged in the ongoing discussions about climate change.  You can read it here.

 

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Statues of Four Secretaries of Agriculture Dedicated on September 20, 2014

What started out as a rainy day, turned into a beautiful day to formally dedicate our statues of four former secretaries of agriculture.  In 2012, we commissioned four statues to be created as a part of the 150th Anniversary of the Land-Grant Act.   The statues were commissioned to prominently recognize Nebraska natives who have made a lasting impact on agriculture and natural resources at the national level.  The statues are of J. Sterling Morton, Clifford Hardin, Clayton Yeutter, and Mike Johanns; all former USDA Secretaries of Agriculture.  All four statues were created using donated funds.

We were thrilled to have Clayton Yeutter and Senator Johanns in attendance for the dedication.  They both were truly touched to be recognized in such a prominent manner on campus.  Their family members were also in attendance by the dozens, as were the Clifford Hardin family members.    You can watch the dedication ceremony at the following link – http://youtu.be/J72agDewiHE

I hope you will take the time to go out and see the statues, located in the green space north and east of Filley Hall.  Matthew Placzek, our sculptor, did an outstanding job of capturing the persona of these distinguished leaders.  They turned out beautifully and will be enjoyed by generations of students and visitors to campus for years to come!

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Dr. Don Reynolds named Director of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

I am very pleased that this past week we announced that Dr. Don Reynolds will become the director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences on Nov. 1. He also will serve as Associate Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources for the Professional Program in Veterinary Medicine.

Don served as Dean of Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, PEI, Canada from 2008 to 2014. He also has served as Associate Dean for research and graduate studies at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University, Interim Chairman of ISU’s Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine and assistant director of ISU’s Agricultural Experiment Station.  Don is an Ohio native and he received his bachelor’s, Ph.D. and DVM from The Ohio State University.

We are extremely excited to have Don join our team on November 1st to provide leadership for the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and direction to the Professional Program in Veterinary Medicine.  With the new Veterinary Diagnostic Center set to break ground within the year for a 2017 completion, expected growth in faculty, and movement of the Nebraska Center for Virology into its expanded next era, it is exciting to have a new director with Don’s breadth of academic leadership experience on board.  His interaction with Nebraska’s livestock industry is also key as we continue to grow and build our veterinary sciences efforts and his past experience and familiarity with the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine is also a huge plus!

I would like to offer my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Don Beermann for doing a wonderful job serving as Interim Director of the school since January of this year when we were caught by surprise in the decision of David Hardin to step back in to the faculty from the director role.  We are very grateful that he was willing to step in and lead the school so successfully and efficiently.  He has done and continues to do a phenomenal job, including tackling some challenging and difficult issues during the past nine months.  Don has been a true servant leader and has been much appreciated by the faculty and staff of the School, and certainly by IANR as a whole.  Thanks Don!

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A little bit of dirt work, a lot of new areas to explore

If you have been on East Campus this past week, you have seen a lot of digging and little flags popping up all over campus.  We are thrilled to see three landscaping projects taking shape this week and I wanted to take a minute to tell you a little bit more about them.

First, what a joy it is to finally see our legacy plaza beginning to take shape in the green space north of Filley Hall.   In 2012, we commissioned four statues to be created as a part of the 150th Anniversary of the Land-Grant Act.   The statues were commissioned to prominently recognize Nebraska natives who have made a lasting impact on agriculture and natural resources at the national level.  The statues are of J. Sterling Morton, Clifford Hardin, Clayton Yeutter, and Mike Johanns; all former USDA Secretaries of Agriculture.  All four statues were created using donated funds.  The statues were placed this past week and will be formally dedicated during a ceremony at 3 PM on September 20th.  The ceremony will be held in the green space north of Filley Hall on UNL’s East Campus and all are welcome to attend.

A little closer to Agricultural Hall, the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources has been working on a project to create a legacy courtyard featuring donated bricks by students, alumni, faculty, staff, and stakeholders.  Over 100 bricks will be included in the initial installation, in the space between Agricultural Hall and Home Economics.  The proceeds from the bricks are being used to create a scholarship program for incoming freshmen.  The bricks are being installed this week and all are welcome to attend the formal dedication of the area on September 27th at 3 PM.  The CASNR tailgate will immediately follow in the East Union.  Both events are free and open to the public.

Finally, you will also notice work being done on the south side of campus across from the new Valentino’s.  We are creating a formal pedestrian entrance into campus that we hope will welcome all of our neighbors to the south, as well as all other guests to campus, in a more formal inviting manner.  That project is slated to be completed in early November.

Thank you for your patience as these projects may mildly disrupt pedestrian paths.  I hope you get the opportunity to enjoy one of these new campus features soon!

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IANR All Hands Meeting

It was wonderful visiting with many of you at this week’s IANR All Hands Meeting.  We had a packed house in the Nebraska East Union and several hundred more watching online.  I sincerely appreciate you taking time out of your day to participate.  As I said during the presentation, I truly believe we are at an inflection point in our history and that the next six years are going to dwarf the last four years in terms of our growth and advancement.

During the presentation I covered a number of topics including a reflection on the past four years, an overview of the next six years to 2020, our near-term budget/fiscal outlook, and the Phase II Faculty Hiring Plan.  I also discussed the resource optimization implementation plans, leadership transitions, celebrated servant leaders/leadership, named the 2014 Omtvedt Innovation Awardees, and highlighted upcoming community events.

If you weren’t able to join us for the presentation, you can find an archived version of the presentation by going to http://ianrhome.unl.edu/ianr-2025

What a wonderful time to be in IANR.  Thanks for all that you do.

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Nebraska State Fair!

Another Nebraska State Fair is in the books!  Hats off to our UNL Extension, Nebraska 4-H families, and members of the Nebraska FFA Association for another successful fair.  It is always enjoyable to see all of Nebraska’s best and brightest join together to show off their hard work.  Especially gratifying is that this is the 4th year for the Nebraska State Fair in its 145-year history on the new fairgrounds in Grand Island.  I remember well when I arrived here just before that first year all of the concern and raw nerves from the previous years of planning the close down and move from Lincoln.  To see such a successful and well-run, state-of-the-art, agriculturally based fair now thriving at the same time that we are rapidly closing in on the completion of Phase I of Nebraska Innovation Campus on the former fairgrounds in Lincoln is really pleasing.

Especially exciting this year was the opening of the “Raising Nebraska” exhibit.  Through a partnership with UNL Extension, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and the Nebraska State Fair, we have created a year-round interactive learning center focused on the science of agriculture and food production.  I hope you got the opportunity to tour the new space during the fair.  If you didn’t get a chance to see the exhibit, please consider stopping by sometime soon.  Year-round hours are Tuesdays from 9-11:00 a.m. CT and Thursdays from 2-4:00 p.m. CT. The exhibit is available other dates and times by appointment.  Please contact UNL Extension Educator Beth Janning to learn more or check out http://raisingnebraska.net/.  Here are a few pictures from this past weekend.  Congratulations to Dean Hibberd, Associate Dean Lodl, and all of the team who have made this happen, including phenomenal designs from Dave Bucholz’s team and successful fund-raising of over $3M so far to support the exhibit from private industry partners!   Saturday was UNL Extension’s Centennial Celebration at the State Fair.  For the past 100 years, UNL Extension has been making a difference in the lives of Nebraskans in the areas of agriculture, water, health and wellness, youth, and communities. This open house showcased some of those Extension programs that will continue to move Nebraska forward into the next century. Fairgoers enjoyed fascinating workshops, activities, and free ice cream.  The festivities marked the end of the 100 events UNL Extension hosted this past year to commemorate their centennial.  Our UNL Extension team even participated in the daily State Fair parade!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday was the inaugural UNL Red Out at the Nebraska State Fair.  Highlights included hands-on activities from various UNL Departments in the Family Fun Zone, an IANR/CASNR ice cream social, pictures with Lil Red in the UNL Admissions Booth, and a pep rally that drew a couple hundred people!  During the pep rally people competed in the biggest Husker fan contest, cheered along with our Husker Cheerleaders, and had a chance to win Husker football tickets.   Thanks to our units across campus for participating in what we hope is an annual event.  Here are a few pictures from the festivities.  

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