New WRC Director has roots in agriculture, branching out to include water quality protection
“I realized that I was not missing milking cows twice a day, seven days a week,” says new Water Resources Center Director Jeff Peterson, explaining in part, how he migrated from studying dairy science to agricultural economics. Peterson grew up on a typical mid-eighties dairy farm outside of Osseo in western Wisconsin; 40 cows, with 200 acres of farmland. He wanted to stay on the farm and his parents insisted on college so he majored in dairy science at the University Wisconsin- River Falls. While there, he accepted an internship in a lending agency within the USDA and he found that he enjoyed the work. An advisor suggested that he add some agricultural economics courses to his studies which eventually led to switching majors, and leaving farm life behind.
As Peterson and his wife Hikaru earned their masters and PhD degrees at Cornell, his interests evolved from farm management to agricultural production and its effects on water quality. His thesis examined the use of nitrate fertilizer in New York and how to mitigate its effects. Following the completion of their degrees two faculty positions were offered to them at Kansas State University.
While his appointment was in Natural Resource Economics, Peterson soon realized that water scarcity was the larger issue, and focused his attention there. “I really enjoyed the interdisciplinary interaction with other departments as we collaborated on the water resources issue, from all these varied areas of knowledge and expertise.”
When the opportunity to lead the Water Resources Center surfaced, Peterson saw a chance to put all those pieces into play. Within the University, he wants the Center to be known as a place for faculty and students to go for ideas and support, while offering collaboration and connections to outside stakeholders.
Outside of campus, Peterson wants the Water Resources Center known as the go-to resource for all things water; a place to facilitate discussion among all invested parties, sharing views on water issues in an atmosphere of openness, respect and goodwill. “I would like the Water Resources Center to be considered a good ambassador, bringing various groups together to discuss water research, policy and economics. We need to encourage conversation, and perhaps more importantly, listening.”