Dudley Smith Initiative History

Singular Initiative-Multiple Objectives

In 1996 Dudley Smith Jr. left a substantial endowment to the College of ACES at the University of Illinois, one that builds upon an earlier gift of cash and 226 acres of farmland. A landowner with family roots in Christian County, Mr. Smith recognized the long-term economic challenges facing agriculture in Illinois, and he anticipated their social impact on rural areas. He wanted agriculture and agricultural communities to thrive.

Dudley Smith advocated adoption of technological advancements and the concentration on long-term stewardship and sustainability of agricultural practices. His guidance and his bequest create novel opportunities for research and outreach that will energize the College and benefit both Illinois agriculture and the communities that are dependent upon it.

Fundamentals of the Program

Reinvigorating and redefining our agricultural system, with its natural resource base, farms and associated businesses, and support base of rural communities, is the ultimate goal of the Dudley Smith Initiative. Its actions will be guided by the following set of fundamental principles:

  • Seeking to exploit technological advances, creating and applying knowledge to the complex and dynamic agriculture and community system in Illinois.
  • Understanding the interactions among the components of the agricultural and community system, including its natural resources, economic base, and social elements, and making it more sustainable over the long-term.
  • Acknowledging that systems research and outreach of this sort is dynamic and will evolve over time as new knowledge and increasingly powerful technologies generate more relevant questions.

System-limiting Questions: Messages from Stakeholders

Diverse groups of stakeholders in Illinois agriculture have challenged the Dudley Smith Initiative with a remarkably uniform set of system-limiting questions. These are not specific problems to be solved in 2 or 3 years, and the list is not meant to be comprehensive or limiting. Instead, the questions are posed as coordinates on a map that will help to design and implement the Dudley Smith Initiative.

  • Agricultural value chains are becoming increasingly consumer-driven, and tomorrow's chains will be successful to the extent that all participants are working in concert. What kind of information and intangible value will best help producers to be a viable part of emerging value chains?
  • Will agriculture in Illinois be profitable in the future because it is focused on low cost production of commodities or on high value niche markets?
  • How can agricultural research be translated into rational public policy?
  • What knowledge will be needed to effectively implement emerging technologies? Can we create novel and useful technologies of our own? And how will the resulting knowledge be delivered in a sustainable fashion?
  • Are the state's growing and ever more complex rural/urban interfaces an opportunity for production agriculture or a threat to it?
  • What can producers do to remain competitive in a system that is characterized by larger and more consolidated input suppliers, spiraling input costs, and increasing regulation?
  • What are the future labor requirements-and future needs for intellectual capital-of viable farming operations? How will these needs be met, and what will be the impact on local communities?
  • How should small towns manage economic growth so as to maintain a strong production sector? What are the infrastructure needs of small towns surrounded by farms?
  • Shifting employment trends in rural communities-away from agriculture and towards more diversity (or jobs in nearby cities)-is more a social than an economic issue. What is needed to help these communities redefine themselves in a positive way?
  • What does the general public expect from agriculture and what does the public need to know about it?

The Approach

The Dudley Smith Initiative invests in interdisciplinary research and outreach that will generate and exploit knowledge and technology needed to strengthen the Illinois agricultural system, including the communities that support it. The project addresses long-term issues and positions the Illinois agriculture and community system to be economically viable and sustainable. Participants are willing to cross disciplines, to take risks, and to create novel programs that will ultimately become self-sufficient.

Annually, the ACES Office of Research issues a Program Description and Request for Proposals on behalf of the Dudley Smith Initiative. It provides background information and details on specific programs supported by the Initiative, application procedures, review of proposals, application and review procedures, and grants management.