Governor announces $4.2 million grant to MU for crop research

Harvest Round Two

Governor announces $4.2 million grant to MU for crop research

Originally printed in the Columbia Daily Tribune

By Alan Burdziak

Amid controversy surrounding the University of Missouri and the General Assembly’s barrage of budget cuts to the UM System, Gov. Jay Nixon visited Columbia on Thursday as he and other officials touted a $4.2 million grant the MU Interdisciplinary Plant Group received to fund crop research.

Shortly after a tour and roundtable discussion with students and the leaders of the project at the Bradford Research Center, 4968 S. Rangeline Road, Nixon fielded questions from reporters. He said he hopes the Senate will restore a $56 million increase in higher education funding included in his 2017 budget draft that House lawmakers cut by $8.6 million.

“I’m disappointed that they’re not joining us in working together to keep tuition down, move this state forward and improve the opportunity for higher education,” Nixon said. “That’s so important.”

During the 2016 legislative session, which began in January, lawmakers have sought to punish the UM System’s flagship campus for unrest that spurred the November resignations of UM System President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin.

Student group Concerned Student 1950 brought international attention to MU through demonstrations over racism on campus that sought Wolfe’s ouster. At the same time, faculty members and deans called for Loftin’s dismissal and said he created a “toxic environment through threat, fear and intimidation.”

Some legislators and other politicians have been critical of the university’s response to the November protests.

The Missouri House on Thursday approved a higher education spending bill that would cut $8.6 million in funding to the UM System, taking $1 million from MU and $7.6 million from system administration. The bill has been sent to the Senate.

Nixon said he thinks interim UM System President Mike Middleton and his staff have done a good job. Asked whether the unrest and its aftermath have hurt MU’s image, Nixon said Middleton and officials are “doing a lot of things to address those challenges.” He deflected a question about whether he is concerned about a projected decrease of 1,500 students at the Columbia campus.

“Students from around the world are choosing MU,” Nixon said. “Faculty members from around the world are choosing the Show-Me State for their careers. … We shouldn’t have a bad week in November slow down the significant progress that this institution and higher education in the Show-Me State are making.”

The governor appeared alongside Middleton and several other university officials at the research center to announce the $4.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Changes in climate and precipitation in the world over the past few decades have made it difficult to grow enough food to feed the Earth’s population, Nixon said. Students and faculty who specialize in plant sciences, biochemistry, biological sciences, computer science and journalism will collaborate on the research project, which will study how the roots of some plants respond to drought conditions.

“The goal is really to understand, get a much more detailed comprehensive understanding of how root growth adapts to drought,” said Robert Sharp, a professor of agronomy at MU and director of the interdisciplinary plant group.

Drought has the largest effect on crop yields worldwide, he said, and the four-year project will examine the roots of plants such as wheat, corn and sorghum in simulated drought conditions.

“The work we do should be fundamentally important to helping crop performance in drought both in Missouri and globally,” Sharp said.

This article was originally published Friday, March 10, 2016 at 5:11 p.m.

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