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Clutter looks back on career, leadership in agricultural research
When Archie Clutter came to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln as a graduate student in 1981, his plan was to earn a master’s degree in cattle breeding and then return to his family’s farm in Iowa.
After his arrival on East Campus and completion of a master’s degree in beef cattle breeding under Merlyn Nielsen, Clutter began exploring with Nielsen research to improve pig reproduction, including setting up a colony of mice that they used to model litter size in pigs. He was also able to begin working with scientists both at Nebraska and at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center.
He never did return to the farm. Eventually, he sold the small herd of cattle he had maintained back in Iowa and went on to earn his doctorate from Nebraska in 1986.
His time in Nebraska was the beginning of a successful career in genetics that has spanned both academia and private industry and that ultimately brought Clutter back to Nebraska U, this time to serve as the dean and director of the university’s Agricultural Research Division.
After 11 years leading ARD, part of the university’s Institute of Agriculture and Nature Resources, Clutter will retire at the end of 2022.
“When I first came back here in 2011, I thought, ‘I can walk around here and imagine it’s 1981,’” Clutter said.
Eleven years later, it’s more difficult to imagine the East Campus of 40 years ago. The campus has seen construction of the Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center, Massengale Residential Center and other building projects, as well as major renovations to the union and library.
The Agricultural Research Division, too, has changed since 2011. Research funding has grown steadily over the past decade, culminating with nearly $71 million in externally sponsored research funding during the 2022 fiscal year — the highest annual total in IANR history. On average, externally sponsored research grew by 6% per year from 2013 to 2022.
“Under Dean Clutter’s leadership, our Agricultural Research Division has grown in its impact in improving food security and shaping a healthy global future,” said Chancellor Ronnie Green, who was the vice chancellor for IANR when Clutter became ARD dean in 2011. “His commitment to science and collaboration were essential to the role, and he always delivered.”
As funding grew, Clutter and the ARD has stayed true to the university’s land-grant mission. Clutter and other ARD and IANR leaders cultivated strong relationships with Nebraska farmers, ranchers and other stakeholders to listen to their ideas and challenges, and the division invested in IANR’s three research, extension and education centers across the state, as well as in other statewide research centers. Clutter quickly established himself as someone willing to listen to producers, said Lisa Lunz, president of the Nebraska ag advocacy group Agricultural Builders of Nebraska.
“I have appreciated all of Dr. Clutter’s focus on research that serves Nebraska, and his willingness to listen to stakeholders across the state about their ideas for moving agriculture forward,” Lunz said. “It’s been wonderful to work with him, and I really want to thank him for his work with producers and others involved with Nebraska’s agriculture industry.”
Clutter first became aware of the strong relationship between IANR and Nebraska’s state agricultural industry as a graduate student.
“It was unique among land-grant universities,” Clutter said. “I knew there was a lot of support here. I knew about the state’s support for agriculture, and I knew about the support for IANR.”
After Clutter finished his doctoral degree in 1986, he returned to Iowa for a post-doctoral fellowship at Iowa State, where he worked on developing genetic improvement tools for dairy cattle. He was only back in Iowa for a year, but he met other young researchers whose paths he would continue to cross throughout his career.
“I got to know an amazing group of current and former students and post-docs while at ISU,” he said.
Among them were Mark Boggess, the director of U.S. MARC in Clay Center, and John Pollak, U.S. MARC’s former director, who until recently led the university’s beef initiative now known as the Beef Innovation Hub.
In 1987, Clutter accepted a tenure-track position in the animal science department at Oklahoma State University. There, he again studied pigs, and looked specifically at underlying genetic reasons for differences in appetite and food intake. He also taught classes, including an undergraduate lecture in genetics that thousands of students took over his 13 years in the position. Throughout his career, he has crossed paths with many former students who were introduced to genetics through that class.
His passion remained research, and in 2000, Clutter accepted a swine genetics research position with Monsanto. Several years later, Monsanto divested its animal research division, which was acquired by a French company and became Choice Genetics. Clutter helped with the divestiture and then accepted a position as the vice president for research and development at Choice. Through that process, he set up labs, hired researchers and managed the research division’s strategic priorities, which included the improvement of poultry populations in addition to swine. These experiences prepared him for his next move.
Clutter enjoyed being on a university campus, and he enjoyed both the breadth and collaborative nature of academic research. He had fond memories of IANR, and Ronnie Green, also a livestock geneticist who Clutter had first met as a graduate student, had recently become the university’s vice chancellor for IANR. All of these factors attracted Clutter back to Nebraska.
Not long after he started, Clutter joined Green and other IANR leaders who had begun thinking about how they could most strategically grow capacity through the hiring of new faculty members. They began engaging the IANR community in identification of the challenges and opportunities related to agriculture and food systems that IANR is uniquely positioned to address, the expertise needed and the current gaps in existing capacity, all as a way to prioritize new positions and build strong transdisciplinary teams.
“We recognized early on that addressing the challenges around the future of food production and food security was going to require a systems approach, and through community discussions we were able to identify key faculty hires that were going to be necessary for us to be as impactful as possible,” Clutter said. “It was a really unique way of looking at hiring. It was unique back then, and it is still a unique approach.”
A decade later, IANR still uses an evolving version of this model to build strategy and drive hiring, and Clutter believes the approach has been a huge factor in ARD’s upward trajectory and IANR’s reputation for faculty excellence.
“It’s all driven by the talent that we have here,” Clutter said, “both the talent that was here in 2011 and the talent that we have continued to be able to bring on board.”
As he prepares for the next chapter, Clutter is looking forward to spending more time with his family, including his wife, Abby, and to more golf and fishing. But he plans to remain connected to agriculture and natural resources as he begins his retirement and his successor, Derek McLean, steps into the ARD dean role on Jan. 1.
Clutter has left a big mark of agriculture and natural resources research in Nebraska, said Mike Boehm, NU Vice President and Harlan Vice Chancellor for IANR, and he leaves the ARD poised for its next chapter of success.
“Dr. Clutter has been an incredible leader these past 11 years, and he leaves a legacy of amazing faculty doing outstanding, interdisciplinary work in support of critically important issues,” Boehm said. “The Agricultural Research Division will benefit from his dedication to science, to agriculture and natural resources, and to Nebraska for decades to come.”
A retirement reception for Clutter is 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, in the Great Plains Room of the Nebraska East Union. All are welcome.