Environmental and Agricultural Research at the Center of James Hutton Institute-USU Agreement

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed April 20 between Utah State University and the Scotland-based James Hutton Institute formalizing efforts to promote cooperation in agricultural and environmental research, with an emphasis on climate change research.

The agreement was signed by Professor Colin Campbell, chief executive of the James Hutton Institute, and USU President Noelle Cockett during an online meeting attended by scientists, administrators, and government representatives on both sides of the Atlantic to mark the occasion and launch the new collaboration which may include faculty and student exchanges and joint research projects.

“Utah State University faculty are dedicated to research in the areas of land, water, and air – work that significantly addresses climate change in the Mountain West region,” Cockett said. “The global partnership we are highlighting today will lead to a more sustainable future, particularly by improving the world’s food supply.”

The James Hutton Institute is a leading scientific organization in integrated land, crop, water environmental and socioeconomic research. The institute’s work is focused on delivering greater food and environmental security through science and connecting land and people.

The institute employs approximately 500 people and includes post-graduate students among its research staff. The organization maintains extensive chemistry laboratories, controlled-environment plant research facilities, field research sites, a Centre for Sustainable Cropping, a comprehensive library collection of print and key online books and journals in chemistry, botany, agriculture, plant genetics, pathology and soil sciences. The institute is also home to Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland which does research and teaching in using big data, mathematics and statistics applied to agriculture, the environment, food and health. A video introducing the institute was part of the signing event and may be viewed here.

On behalf of the institute, Campbell said, “It is a pleasure to establish links with Utah State University as there is huge potential for collaboration. This partnership represents a one-of-a-kind opportunity to realize scientific collaboration between a world-leading science organization and a thriving research university known and respected around the world.”

Campbell added that there are many similarities between the institute and USU’s research missions, but that differences are important too because they stimulate seeing different perspectives and lateral thinking that will lead faculty researchers and students to develop more creative solutions to local and global challenges.

Ellen Wong, principal officer of the U.S. Consul General in Edinburgh, Scotland, joined the meeting, and noted the importance of partnerships to meet the challenges of feeding people and caring for the Earth’s resources.

“This is a timely collaboration…because these issues and climate change are such important issues for the future of our world, and areas where both our countries have the talent and expertise to really contribute to solutions,” Wong said. “I’m also so pleased to welcome partnerships like this one, as they really are the foundation and lifeblood of the U.S.-Scotland relationship, and go so far beyond what governments alone can do.”

Cockett noted that Utah’s population is rapidly growing, which puts pressure on land and water and directly impacts agricultural producers, making sustainable agricultural practices crucial in Utah and to ensure the global food supply.

Ken White, dean of USU’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (CAAS) and vice president for USU Extension, said, “This agreement provides new opportunities for our faculty and students in critical, and globally important fields of research and reinforces the role of the college and Utah State University in research with important global impacts that focus on land, water and air quality. Certainly, the faculty and students in the Department of Plant, Soils, and Climate are having amazing impacts in these areas and this will help to expand those opportunities.”

Ian Houston, who helped initiate contacts that led to the new agreement and who serves as President and Washington D.C. Ambassador of the Scottish Business Network, said, “There is a tendency to think of agriculture as something of the past, but this business and research sector is vibrant, modern, and innovative in the current global and local economy. This cooperative partnership between two first-rate entities in Utah and Scotland will reinforce that principle and truly deepen the impact.”

A video introducing USU and CAAS to participants in the signing event featured another, though non-scientific, connection between the new partners. The soundtrack featured a USU Scotsmen Pipe and Drum Corps’ recording of The Scotsman as backdrop to images and information about the university, which was a happy surprise in the virtual gathering.

Learn more about the James Hutton Institute at its website, Hutton.ac.uk/.

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