Luck had something to do with it, but hard work, brilliance and a knack for bringing people together have distinguished the career of dairy scientist Neal Jorgensen. After 35 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Jorgensen will retire June 30 as executive associate dean of UW-Madison”s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Jorgensen grew up on a Holstein dairy farm just east of Luck, Wis., that his grandfather started in the early 1900s. His father took over the farm during the Depression; his mother was the cow person and his dad preferred the fieldwork. “Rocks were often the best crop we raised – we picked them every spring” he remembers. “I guess we were poor, but we really didn”t know it, and we always had enough to eat.”
After two years in the Army, Jorgensen earned a degree in ag education at UW-River Falls, but practice-teaching taught him that he didn”t want to teach high school. College chemistry, on the other hand, fascinated him. Coming to UW-Madison in 1960, Jorgensen combined his dairy-farm background and love for science to earn master”s and doctorate degrees in dairy science, with a minor in biochemistry.
Spring rock-picking on the farm helped prepare Jorgensen for the rustic grad-student facilities at Madison. A lean-to adjoining Hiram Smith Hall housed the students” offices, where temperatures broke 100 degrees in the summer and approached freezing in the winter, recalls fellow grad student Larry Satter. Students shared a basement laboratory, but all the dairy science professors were based in other buildings. The grad student office had no phone; when someone knocked on the window, you went outside, around the building and into the lab to answer your call.
After graduating, Jorgensen joined the dairy science faculty at UW-Madison for two years. A stint as a professor in South Dakota convinced him that he wanted to work in Wisconsin, and he returned to the UW-Madison dairy science department in 1968.
Satter, who now heads the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center at Madison, has worked with Jorgensen for four decades. “Neal has a real knack for relating to people and getting them to work together. One of his greatest skills is getting people of diverse backgrounds to work together,” Satter says. “For example, he worked closely with agronomists in developing quality standards for alfalfa and hay – standards that are now used nationwide.” In another project, Jorgensen worked with agricultural engineers, food scientists and biochemists to produce protein from alfalfa juice. The protein-rich “squeezings” can be used in animal and human nutrition. This work has found applications in poor villages in Mexico, where people combine alfalfa paste with beans and tortillas to produce a nutritious protein supplement.
Jorgensen has trained more than 65 graduate students, many of whom are now leaders in science and industry worldwide. His lab produced hundreds of peer-reviewed publications and abstracts, and his teaching has earned him awards from the College, student organizations, and the American Dairy Science Association.
“As a graduate student, you want to work on something that might make a difference. In Neal”s lab, you always felt that what you were working on had relevance,” says Randy Shaver, a former Jorgensen grad student who is now the extension dairy nutritionist at UW-Madison. “Neal has always been very practical, and has a good knowledge of what was important to the dairy industry. His programs for dairy producers have always been closely tied to farmers” needs, and he is well respected for that.”
That practicality also came through in his classroom teaching and his research program, which always focused on the needs and opportunities for the industry, Shaver says. “For example, his work on vitamin D, with biochemist Hector Deluca, was basic research, but driven by a real-life problem for dairy farmers – milk fever. This work allowed him to develop practical feeding and management guidelines to help producers deal with milk fever.”
His early studies on forage particle size laid the groundwork for much of the research being done today. As a dairy nutritionist, he has been a frequent speaker at conferences and workshops. He served on the National Research Council”s Committee on Animal Nutrition, co-authored the NRC publication Nutrient Requirements for Dairy Cattle, and developed the Applied Dairy Nutrition program for the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.
In 1984, Jorgensen was named associate dean of CALS and associate director of the CALS research division, responsible for day-to-day leadership and coordination of the College”s research programs. In 1992 he was named executive associate dean, where he coordinated budget and personnel issues, program development, faculty and staff recruitment and development, and department and program reviews.
“The College and Wisconsin agriculture have been exceptionally fortunate to have Neal Jorgensen serve them as both a faculty member and a university administrator,” says CALS dean Roger Wyse. “Neal has a multitude of friends across the state and country who were past students, collaborators or people who turned to him for help with a variety problems. He is the kind of person who always takes time to be helpful, and he did it with a smile and good cheer.
“Neal is passionate in his love for the College. It shows in his administrative style and his support of those who have made the College great – the faculty,” Wyse says. “Because he was an accomplished scientist and teacher before he was a College dean, he could relate to the problems and stress that today”s faculty members face. Neal was the person department chairs and faculty members sought when they needed help solving problems. He was a trusted friend who always listened and always tried to help.”
“Collaborative research with Neal Jorgensen was and still is one of the most fruitful and pleasurable experiences I have had,” says Hector DeLuca, chairman of the biochemistry department at UW-Madison. “The major reasons are the sound scientific basis of all of Neal”s work, his dedication to real science, the great respect for the opinions of other scientists and especially those of students. In all the years of work with Neal, I never had to wait for his contribution, and there were many. Neal”s reputation as a nutritional and dairy scientist was and is widespread even today, as a visit to any dairy science department in the country will reveal. Neal also has a remarkable talent of bringing together people with widely divergent opinions such that agreement is easily reached – truly a statesman of science!”
Jorgensen has influenced dairy research priorities and programming in Wisconsin, the nation and the world. He has served on the board of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, on the review team for the U.S.-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund, on the Joint Council on Food and Agricultural Sciences, and the NRC”s Board on Agriculture, which advises the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on research, extension and farm policy. He chaired the Subcommittee on Animal Systems that developed the National Research Initiative competitive grants program of USDA”s Cooperative Research, Education and Extension Service.
Jorgensen was the first chair of the National Genetics Resources Advisory Council. With the help of UW-Madison colleagues Neal First, Margaret Dentine and Brian Kirkpatrick, he put together the National Animal Genetics Resources Program, which is dedicated to animal genome research and germplasm conservation in livestock and poultry.
Jorgensen proudly notes that on June 11, 1997, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will recognize the National Animal Genome Research Program at the Secretary”s Honor Awards Program. Recognition will go to Richard Frahn, CSREES; and the four species
coordinators: James Womack, Texas A&M, cattle; Max Rothschild, Iowa State, swine; Noelle Cockett, Utah State, sheep; and Jerry Dodgson, Michigan State, poultry. The Honor Awards are the highest recognition USDA offers to acknowledge contributions to agriculture, consumers of agricultural products, and to the Department.
“Thanks to the leadership of Dean Roger Wyse, it looks like a national-level food-genome program will be a part of the next Farm Bill. This will look at the genome of animals, plants, insects, microbes, and aquaculture – everything that affects the food chain,” he says.
Jorgensen is pleased to be retiring with the food-genome feather in his cap. As a lifelong observer of the dairy-science scene, he stresses that researchers need to continue to tie knowledge generation to knowledge application.
“Dairy science has to blend basic research, for which there is funding, with application work that connects researchers to dairy producers. To really know the industry”s needs and the problems of producers, you”ve got to be connected to them,” he says. “That was one of the real strengths of our department. About every three months, Jim Crowley (extension dairyman from 1950 to 1988) would bring together biochemists, geneticists and other researchers. Jim would tell them about the issues that farmers had to deal with, and get answers to their questions.”
Staying connected, and dealing with the changes sweeping the dairy industry, poses problems in times of downsizing, he points out. “With shrinking faculty numbers, it”s a real challenge to cover the breadth of the changes taking place in dairy. For example, dairying in Wisconsin ranges from pasture systems to large confinement operations. It”s hard for a small faculty to cover this full breadth.”
Researchers and producers need to work together to meet another challenge. “There has to be integration of plant and animal agriculture with environmental issues. We have to protect the environment while we continue to find ways to make agriculture profitable and sustainable. There”s no other way,” he states.
Human resources, as well as natural resources, will need attention, Jorgensen says. “The needs of the dairy industry are the same as the needs of General Motors. GM needs engineers that design engines; dairy needs people who understand the needs of the cow. We need people trained in business management, plants, soils, and equipment, as well as dairy-cow management. There should be more students in the animal sciences, in areas with strong connections to agriculture. The opportunities are there, and I feel the salaries are there. For example, there are more jobs than available graduates for dairy science students who go into dairy farm management.”
Jorgensen has been active in dozens of professional organizations and producer groups over the years. He has served as president (and in just about every other office) of the
American Dairy Science Association, and will soon finish his term on the ADSA Foundation board of directors. He is chairman of Farm Progress Days Inc. of Wisconsin, and serves on the boards of several other Wisconsin farm organizations. “To be associated with the boards of these groups, and to work with the strong leaders of these groups, has been a lot of fun,” he says.
Jorgensen is quick to share credit for his career accomplishments, which won”t surprise anybody who knows this modest man. “The greatest thing for me was association with my colleagues,” he says. “Professors Bud Schultz and Bill Hoekstra gave me the right start as my major professor in dairy science and minor professor in biochemistry. They demanded achievement, and were fair, capable, and always extremely professional.
“I taught my first class, Feeds and Feeding, with Art Pope, an outstanding classroom teacher. I went on to team-teach a revamped animal nutrition course with Bob Grummer, another great one.” As department chair, Bob Niedermeier frequently rescued Jorgensen at the end of semesters, when Jorgensen”s classroom and short-course teaching loads threatened to overwhelm him. “Bob would come down and volunteer to take my lectures for a week. This was a lifesaver.
“I never had an extension appointment, but I did a lot of extension work with Jim Crowley and Terry Howard – they were a joy to work with,” he says. “Hector DeLuca was superb in welcoming and training students. He”s the best friend a student could have in the lab, in an exam, in a seminar. Dr. DeLuca has been my teacher, my colleague, and my friend, an associate I will always cherish.”
Jorgensen and his wife, Darlyne, plan to stay in the Madison area. “I”m also going into ”aquaculture” in Polk County,” he notes with a smile. “There is a 47-inch musky on the wall of our cabin at Bone Lake. I”d like to add a bigger one.”