This month, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) spotlights NIFA-funded researchers who are creating more and better markets for producers and consumers.
Get to know Dr. Kimberly Morgan, associate professor at the University of Florida (UF), and her work in the following conversation.
Tell us about your background and how your interest in agriculture developed.
I am the third generation of the Indiana farm that my grandfather sold with great joy (he never agreed with me that pleasure horses were a good use of time or money). silver). After starting at UF full of plans to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, I had to come to terms with the reality that physics just wasn’t something I could understand. Instead, I found my niche in a course called “Farm Firm Management” taught by Dr. John Holt. Here, I surprised both of us with my keen sense of finding solutions to improve business decision-making based on the economic principles and analytical techniques he introduced to us in his course. The best part of working in the discipline of food and resource economics is that everyone who eats and/or appreciates natural resources benefits from our work as a partner. Seeing my students’ and clients’ eyes light up when I show them how economic models give us the power to make math dance and tell the story of why markets behave the way they do is how I continue to convey the flame of knowledge shared with me by my mentors with the next generations of difference makers.
Describe your involvement with NIFA and your role.
NIFA is focused on solving the thorny issues that we all face as a society of producers and consumers of food and resources. As such, all of my NIFA-supported projects are built around the skills and efforts of my teammates and stakeholders who participate in, contribute to, and benefit from research and education. I’ve sat on several NIFA grant panels, and while these are hard and time consuming, those hours are rewarding for two reasons. First, reviewing and discussing each proposal with my colleagues helps me see what kind of problems top researchers are trying to solve. Second, I learned how to improve my own grant submissions to meet application details, build strong, integrated teams alongside students and industry, and think about the expected economic impacts of the work.
Could you tell us about one of your NIFA-funded projects? What is the objective of your project and what impact do you hope it will have on your institution and your trainees?
I had the privilege of being part of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program projects in 2014-2019. I admit that these are my most favorite NIFA-funded projects because they are built on the inspirations and dreams of newcomers to agriculture or farmers ready to take on a new venture, and how my students from undergraduates have been an integral part of our project by finding new ways to connect producers and consumers and their communities. In this program, many refreshing and unexpected positive results have occurred, including award-winning team efforts to reach underserved audiences and the use of new technologies to reduce the costs of connecting buyers with sellers, to name just two things. As a researcher, I found great joy in being the art of the co-learning process that happened naturally by putting young and experienced entrepreneurs in a room, giving them economic tools to use, then watching them imagine better ways of doing things to benefit all of us in the food system. If universities continue to find ways to show students that we offer knowledge in the form of practical learning by doing, we generate added value for stakeholders, taxpayers, citizens of our States and the system world food, now and in the future. coming. NIFA funding is the number one key to achieving these multiple, integrated and long-term impacts and outcomes.
How has NIFA funding shaped your professional development as a scientist?
As my primary appointment centers on extension work with farmers, agricultural input suppliers, and support agencies such as the Cooperative Extension Service and state departments of agriculture, I have always been surrounded entrepreneurial thinkers and creators of out-of-the-box solutions. When I first got my PhD, I remember worrying about how I would find interesting challenges to solve and bright, hard-working people to work with, and I found all of that and more. in seeking NIFA funding and in service as a grant panelist. The global food supply chain is full of challenges and opportunities, and by focusing my research on successful grant proposals based on questions from the field and selected by a panel of my peers, I knew that my team and future students would make a difference in the realization of projects supported by NIFA. Career advancement depends on identifying real-world problems and connecting with people who have “skin in the game”, and this network of colleagues is the cornerstone of my scientific career success as we work together to find the alternative to pursue over the next best.
What advice do you have for current students who might be interested in pursuing a similar career?
My answer to this question seems to change as I get older and wiser, but for today I’d say follow your dreams and find a career you’re passionate about, and you’ll rarely have a dull day at the office. Academics are, by definition, lifelong learners, so there is no age limit or time constraint on investing in higher education – I did not get my PhD. until my 37th birthday while working two jobs and raising three young children. And if you encounter obstacles, find ways around them. For example, my undergraduate major wasn’t in economics, and my GPA wasn’t close to a 3.5, but my class work impressed a professor or two enough to take a chance and let me into the master of science program. As my mentor reminds me, to play the game, you have to sit down at the table. So grab a chair and pull it out – we could use all the minds we can get!
Top photo: Far left image of a truck full of potatoes, middle left image of a hand holding oysters. Middle right image of various fresh peppers at a farmers market and far right image of honey bees in a beehive. Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock.