Scientist discusses agriculture innovation

GILFILLAN — The University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) dean said 98 percent of students are placed in jobs.

“Our enrollment is up,” said Dr. Brian Buhr from the University of Minnesota tent at the IDEAg Farmfest at Gillfillan Aug. 9.

“We have a new program called Food Systems for students interested in working for large food company or as entrepreneurs,” Buhr said. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in food production and agronomy firms like Land O’Lake and WinField United. The need for agricultural technicians has really stepped up, in things like precision agriculture technology and managing crops.”

Buhr said U of M research has developed barley varieties for micro breweries which is another rapidly-growing field.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in food entrepreneurship too,” Buhr said.

Research subjects include intermediate wheatgrass (IWG), a perennial grass genetically related to common wheat. It produces large biomass and is among the most productive, cool-season forage species in the western United States.

As a perennial species, IWG provides substantial environmental services compared to annual grain crops, including reduced soil and water erosion, reduced soil nitrate leaching and increased carbon sequestration. In addition, it has reduced input of seed, tillage, energy and pesticides.

What’s more, IWG has a more extensive food system that can capture more applied fertilizer and reduce total nitrate leaching by 86 percent or more compared to annual wheat.

Research has shown that after two selection cycles, grain yield increased by about 77 percent and seed size by about 23 percent.

Buhr said Winter Camelina research is showing promise. It can offer environmental and economic benefits to field pennycress. In addition, it yields up to 1,700 pounds per acre in Minnesota (20 to 34 bushels/acre).

Camelina oil can be used as a healthy, alternative cooking oil plus as renewable aviation (jet) fuel and biodiesel. About one third of Winter camelina seed is comprised of omega-3 (linolenic) fatty acid and has high levels of vitamin E that exceed soybean oil.

In addition, winter camelina seed meal that remains after extracting its oil is approved as a livestock feed supplement for U.S. beef cattle and broiler chickens.

Currently, there is a need to breed winter camelina for improved seed yield and earlier maturity to optimize its use as a winter annual cover crop, according to University of Minnesota Agricultural School research.

Buhr said students can also study at a center for artificial intelligence using crop information to make improved decisions.

“Those careers are out there and it’s a large employment sector,” Buhr said. “I don’t know if there is another field out there like this with room to develop globally. There’s just a huge scope of opportunity.”

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Fritz Busch can be emailed at