The Role of the Land Grant University in Economic Development
By Cole Gustafson, Associate Director, North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station

One of the fundamental roles of a land grant university is economic development. Our mission is to conduct "cutting-edge" research, test the outcomes in field trials across the state, and then deliver the information to farmers and ranchers. At NDSU, our goal is to bring this information, along with the entire university, to you-which is becoming easier every day with the internet and other advanced forms of communication. The knowledge we create is intended to increase the well-being of farm and ranch families, as well as enhance total economic activity in rural areas.

The research programs currently being conducted at the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center are a prime example of this process. Through the past year, several new research initiatives were undertaken. The 1999 North Dakota Legislature provided additional funding to expand the Range Initiative. Research results from the past year on this project are reported in another section of this annual report.

If adopted, these recommendations should lead to more sustainable ranching systems, greater producer returns, and more vibrant rural economies. For example, in 1998, average net returns to cow-calf producers in southcentral North Dakota were $8.52 per cow, according to the ND Farm and Ranch Business Management records. If our research results and programs of education were adopted by ranchers in this region and they were able to increase the performance of their herds to the level of the top 20% of ranches, their net returns per cow would average $86.27. This increase of $77.75 is economic development! Added income enables families to pay off debt, replace machinery, or purchase new items for the household. Economists indicate that this $77.75 increase yields nearly a $225 total economic impact to the total community when all final spending is accounted for. Think of the potential when these values are multiplied by the number of cows and farm families in the region served by Central Grasslands Research Extension Center.

An even greater impact occurs when the returns to education are considered. For several years, the Central Grasslands Research Extension Center has housed a number of students who stay and work on collaborative research projects. Some of these students stay only a few days, while others may reside for over a year. Not only do these students expand the local economy when they purchase food and other necessities, they hopefully will add to the state's entire economic base when they eventually select a career. It is our hope that these "hands-on" research efforts will engage their interest in both range research and North Dakota. Hopefully they will select a profession in the area and make a positive contribution to our state for years to come. To me, this is what economic development is all about.

Dr. Cole Gustafson
Associate Director
ND Agricultural Experiment Station
315 Morrill Hall
North Dakota State University
Fargo, ND 58105


1999 Annual Report Directory