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The center's mission is to improve the decision-making ability of producers and ag businesses.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

March 23, 2021

3 Min Read
Calves and Cows in pen
MAKING DECISIONS: Livestock and crop producers make important decisions every day that affect their operations. A new Center for Agricultural Profitability will use an interdisciplinary approach to support decision-making in all sectors of agriculture through applied research and education. Curt Arens

Nebraska’s Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education has approved the establishment of the Center for Agricultural Profitability within the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The new interdisciplinary center, which was approved March 11, will facilitate faculty research and conduct outreach related to agricultural profitability. The center also is charged with training undergraduate and graduate students — all to support informed decision-making in agriculture through applied research and education.

The vision for this mission is for the center to be the innovative, responsive and trusted source of ag business management research and education.

“The complex problems faced by agriculture today cannot be solved by isolated disciplines,” says Larry Van Tassell, UNL agriculture economics department head. “A holistic, systems approach is needed to address the profitability of agriculture. While feasibility and profitability of agriculture innovations have always been important, the increasing complexity of the agribusiness environment requires a holistic approach to problems. The center will unite faculty from various disciplines to engage with faculty from the department of agriculture economics.”

The center will build on strengths present in the university’s department of agricultural economics through collaboration with other research and education units within IANR and the University of Nebraska system. It aims to serve agricultural producers, agribusiness professionals and the economy in Nebraska and beyond.

Making decisions

“It is critical that producers have decision-making information that is current, research-based, specific and holistic, and that they have appropriate tools and procedures to analyze that information,” says Mike Boehm, NU vice president and Harlan vice chancellor for IANR. “The center will play a critical role in fulfilling that need.”

This new center has been three years in the making. “Once we got serious about it, the process took nearly a year,” Van Tassell says. “While preparing for the center to materialize, the Nebraska Extension farm and ranch management team in the department of agriculture economics has been developing several educational tools to improve our interaction with constituents.

“Our current weekly Farm and Ranch Management webinar series and a new effort to increase the amounts of publications and podcasts are new programs that will continue under the umbrella of the center.”

In addition, the department also is beta-testing the online Agriculture Budgeting Calculator tool, which Van Tassell says will be a foundational decision-making program that the center can build around.

It couldn’t come at a better time. “The agricultural operating environment has changed dramatically over the past 20 years,” Van Tassell says, “and it will continue to evolve in the next 20 years.”

He cites restructuring in the agricultural input, marketing and processing sectors, along with increasing price volatility for commodities over the past decade, as increasing the need for price and production risk management.

The effect of every economic decision a producer makes is amplified under these conditions, Van Tassell says. “There is less flexibility for a wrong business decision,” he explains. Farmers can no longer just focus on maximizing yield or outputs without carefully considering financial aspects of their decisions, he adds.

The center, which will begin operating by early summer, will focus concerted effort among social science, biological and engineering disciplines to provide the research and educational programs required to keep Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers financially healthy.

For more information, visit the UNL department of agricultural economics website at

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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