October 23, 2002 | By: Haven Miller

To plan and implement effective agricultural programs for the future, land grant universities and their Cooperative Extension systems must listen to the stakeholders they serve.

Dr. Colien Hefferan, administrator for the USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, said in a recent speech to faculty and staff of the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture that Extension programs should stay focused on clients.

“All of us who are a part of this system need to commit ourselves to really engaging the communities with whom we work, really assessing where science can take us, and really asking ourselves what are the questions we need to ask that will engage all of our family of universities in finding solutions to problems in the communities we serve,” said Hefferan.

As administrator of CSREES, which is county and state Cooperative Extension’s federal partner and funding agency in Washington, D.C., Hefferan oversees a $1 billion budget and manages an agency that represents 105 land grant universities. She spoke at UK’s Seay Auditorium as part of the Stokes Lecture Series.

Hefferan stressed the importance of Extension collaborating with other agencies to solve problems.

“We need to be multidisciplinary, multifunctional, multi-institutional, and multistate in our approaches,” she said. “Here in Kentucky there are a number of extraordinary examples of linking together the Extension system with the public health system here, and a linkage between the community development system and the research system that is looking for new uses and new products for agriculture.”

Science needs to underpin the decisions made in agriculture, environment, and human health, according to Hefferan.  She said one must look at lessons from past science use in order to make future science choices.  She also challenged agricultural educators to do a better job of anticipating future needs.

“We have a positive responsibility to help people envision what the future will be and move our education programs and our science programs toward the vision of that future,” she said.  “We need to have a balance of programs that let us address immediate concerns as well as push out into the future.  We’re the people who have the expertise to anticipate the future.”

Dr. Hefferan was accompanied on her central Kentucky visit by Dawn Riley, USDA director of legislative and intergovernmental affairs for Research, Education and Economics.  During their visit they toured one of the state’s local Cooperative Extension Service offices, and also UK’s new beef research unit.