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VandenBosch and Reinemann: Message to commodity groups regarding CALS applied agricultural research plans

This message was sent to commodity group representatives serving on the Ag Coalition on 4/6/20.

Ag Coalition members,

I hope this message finds you healthy and managing these extraordinary times with as much success as possible. As you may have seen in media reports, UW–Madison has undergone significant changes to our operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As important collaborators and stakeholders, I want to provide you information on implications to CALS applied agricultural research, which includes the Extension specialists in CALS departments.

On March 23, classroom instruction was replaced with alternative delivery and the university asked undergraduate students not to return to the campus at the end of spring break. In anticipation of reductions to the university labor force due to illness and related family leave, the university has also required any research that can be done remotely to make that transition and has directed scientists to scale back new and continuing research to focus only on projects, “where termination of the research would lead to loss of long-running experimental data, critical time-series or time-sensitive data, loss of equipment, or to the loss of life of critical research-related organisms.”

Our office is responsible for approving requests for new and continuing research projects conducted in CALS. The safety of our students, staff and faculty is of highest importance when making these judgements. We must also consider all of the supporting services individual researchers rely upon to complete their work –  including those provided by custodial staff, health and safety professionals, equipment operators and animal care workers. Without appropriate staffing levels, which could decrease as a result of illness, these services will not be available and research will not be able to be conducted safely, if at all. In concert with research continuity, university travel has been cancelled through May 15, except in extraordinary cases, which also require approvals from my office.

Our applied agricultural research differs in many ways from the way commercial farms and processors operate. For example, our field experiments rely heavily on undergraduate and graduate students who perform many of the critical research tasks. Typically, this can require groups of students traveling in a single vehicle to a research site several hours away from the campus. Under current state and university restrictions, this typical approach is not allowed in order to protect the health of our students and their families and home communities.

We have developed policies to protect campus and research station staff, as well as people on participating farms.  All researchers in the college must submit plans for continuity of operations for research that meet current health guidelines related to physical distance, number of people interacting as a group and travel between communities. We are reviewing plans and approving those which protect important research and can be conducted according to guidelines.

This will result in changes to projects for the coming growing season. We are asking researchers to maximize the use of our research stations and limit the number of field sites on private farms this season, in order to conduct research with as little travel as possible, and to develop standard operating procedures to minimize the risk of disease transmission. We are also reducing the number of animals at research stations so that they can be maintained by fewer personnel, to account for expected illnesses.

The university is committed to our long partnership with Wisconsin agriculture and we are personally committed to ensuring resources from the college continue to be available to the ag community. In order to protect the partnership for the future, that means changes to our research this coming growing season.

We thank you in advance for your patience as we continue to work through details for our near term research. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have questions about our plans.

Sincerely,

Kate VandenBosch, Dean
Doug Reinemann, Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach