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Dr. Richard Coffey tours the OSU Swine Center with herd manager Jim Coakley. Coffey’s career has involved more than 20 years of swine research.

Q&A with OSU's new animal and food sciences department head

Friday, October 21, 2022

Media Contact: Harrison Hill | Senior Research Communications Specialist | 405-744-5827 | harrison.c.hill@okstate.edu

Dr. Richard Coffey has worked in a variety of research areas over the course of his academic and professional career. 
While earning both a master’s degree and doctorate, his research focused largely on swine nutrition and covered the specific areas of protein sources for nursery pigs and the bioavailability of phosphorus in feedstuffs for swine. 

Coffey was named the new head of the Oklahoma State University Department of Animal and Food Sciences in March 2022. 
Research Matters asked Coffey to reflect on his career thus far and what he hopes to accomplish at OSU. 

 

The OSU Department of Animal and Food Sciences is well known nationally for its research discoveries as new projects address sustainability efforts, climate change awareness and water quality/accessibility standards. How will you lead faculty into a new era of these research areas?

Without question, these will be important issues going forward, and it is important that animal and food sciences, along with other departments in the OSU Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, be on the leading edge of discovery and application research. These efforts will help our livestock producers continue to serve as leaders in natural resource stewardship.

As a department head, there are several ways to support faculty success in these areas. First, I can help make sure they have the resources they need. Certainly, keeping our animal units viable for faculty research is key, and using some of the department’s discretionary funds to support related work and infrastructure can encourage faculty to carry out research that addresses these topics.

Also, I’m looking forward to connecting faculty with funding agencies that support work in these areas. Additionally, by developing relationships with other departments in OSU Agriculture, as well as with other institutions across the U.S. and the world, I can support faculty collaboration with other researchers to approach these important areas from a multidisciplinary perspective.

 

Six new faculty positions have been approved in Animal and Food Sciences. Will some of those new hires have research appointments? How will you prioritize their focus areas?

It is exciting to think about adding six new faculty positions to support the important work of the department, and conversations are currently underway to determine the highest priority needs for these positions. With over 1,000 undergraduate students in the animal science major, there is clearly a need for additional full-time equivalent employees in teaching. However, it is also important that we identify the critical gaps in research expertise and target some effort in these areas. This will not only enhance the department’s research capabilities but also aid and expand our graduate student training capacity.

The Department of Animal and Food Sciences is the largest department in the Ferguson College of Agriculture. How will the unit capitalize on its size and strength to contribute to agricultural research?

Having such a large population of undergraduate students provides the department a great opportunity to expose many of these students to projects and potential careers involved in research. A great way to do this is through undergraduate research projects. This not only gives students knowledge of how to use scientific discoveries to solve important problems, but it also expands the research capabilities of the department.

Additionally, though students major in specific programs within the OSU Department of Animal and Food Sciences, they have a broad range of interests. This allows our advisors to assist students in identifying areas outside of the department for research opportunities.

 

A lot of OSU ag research involves multidisciplinary projects beyond single-focus issues. How does the Department of Animal and Food Sciences collaborate outside the Ferguson College of Agriculture with other departments across campus?

So many of the challenges confronting our livestock and food producers can only be addressed through multidisciplinary approaches. As an example, a sound environmental plan for a livestock operation will involve several different disciplines including:
Animal science to address nutritional/feeding programs that meet animals’ dietary needs without excess nutrient excretion into the environment.

Veterinary medicine as animal health can impact efficiency of nutrient utilization.

Biosystems and agricultural engineering because animal housing and manure collection systems can impact the volume and type of nutrients applied to land.

Plant and soil sciences because crops, types of soil and cropping practices impact land application of manure.
Agricultural economics, as all practices associated with environmental management must allow the operation to remain economically sustainable.

 

Explain the role of OSU Extension in sharing agricultural research that advances Oklahoma and its residents.

I am a firm believer that the research we do ultimately should benefit our stakeholders — it needs to be tactics and strategies the citizens of Oklahoma can adopt to improve their quality of life. The beauty of the land-grant system is that Extension provides a direct link between the research that is being conducted and the stakeholders who can benefit from the research. State and regional Extension specialists, along with county Extension educators, provide education and demonstrations on the research that is developed at the university level and distributed to Oklahoma residents and beyond.

One of the real blessings during my 21 years as an Extension swine specialist was getting to work with producers and seeing them adopt the new technologies and management practices developed by researchers. I witnessed the positive impact these new ideas had on their operations and families.


Photo By: Todd Johnson

Story By: Gail Ellis | Research Matters Magazine

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