What you see depends on what you look at

The recent story, U of S deemed fifth best agricultural college in Canada, was a good overview of the rankings provided by the U.S. News & World Report.

I would like to call attention to several points that need to be kept in mind when reviewing the University of Saskatchewan’s ranking by an American newspaper.

Firstly, the U of S has a long record on research and innovation in agricultural science. The work of our 80 researchers, which is a smaller group than the universities that rank above us, shows up in journals that are highly specialized and may not be part of the US and World Report methodology.

This is as it should be. One would expect an agricultural college with our history and record to be publishing in specialized leading edge science journals as well as in local industry and producer outlets.

In addition, the U of S has an outstanding applied record that bears noting.

A critical measure of agricultural research’s impact at the U of S is in the province’s fields. Saskatchewan has 43 percent of Canada’s arable land, so what we grow is highly reflective of Canada’s agricultural quality, output and impact.

Thirty-two percent of the acres seeded to Saskatchewan’s top 12 crops last year were planted with varieties developed by researchers in the university’s agriculture college.

In 2010, Saskatchewan exported $2.3 billion worth of wheat and durum, 20 percent of which was varieties from the U of S.

The province also exported $1.7 billion worth of lentils and peas (96 percent from the U of S) and $1.3 billion “other,” which included flax (70 percent U of S), oats (40 percent U of S), barley (40 percent malt barley and 80 percent forage U of S) and canaryseed (50 percent U of S.)

The university also has innovative crops under development or patents in food and bioproducts, and has had a significant impact on animal production, particularly beef.

As well, the land management techniques and policies developed here have made a major contribution to increasing global food production, improving sustainability and enhancing ecological quality.

Another measure of which we are particularly proud is how sought after our students are following graduation. We have close to 100 percent placement on graduation and high job satisfaction after graduation. Employers are eager to hire our students.

There is a place for rankings, provided one does not lose sight of a larger picture. With rankings, one also sees what one wants to see.

“Rankings are based on each system’s definition of what a university should be, not on any specific university mission,” says Gary Barron, an Alberta PhD student blogger.

I would argue that agriculture at the U of S is succeeding at our mission because the impact we have on the world is undeniable and, we believe, visible and valuable.

Mary Buhr is dean of the University of Saskatchewan’s agriculture college.

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