Linda Geist

COLUMBIA, Mo. – In May of 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called American Association of Universities leaders for help to assist Ukrainian universities during the war with Russia.

University of Missouri Extension forage specialist and professor Craig Roberts says the call, just three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, was a “stroke of genius.” Zelenskyy recognized early on that the way to guarantee a better, stronger Ukraine was through the U.S.’s leading research universities. He wanted to ensure that Ukrainian students would be able to obtain degrees despite the war.

Educators from the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) and MU Extension stepped up to the plate.

Extension agronomists, animal scientists and ag economists teamed up with the Alliance for Grassland Renewal to teach how to improve pastures by using novel-endophyte tall fescue.

The course, taught remotely, has attracted 53 students at three universities in central and western Ukraine: Podillia Institute of Fodder and Agriculture, Podillia State University and Uman National University of Horticulture. A high school student from Lebanon, Mo., also attends as part of her science project. Students receive translated online and printed materials on novel-endophyte tall fescue.

Faculty at North Carolina State University, Virginia Tech University and the University of Georgia partner with MU in this class.

Additionally, Roberts, MU retired faculty Willi Meyers and Ken Schneeberger and others meet every two weeks with Ukrainian ag officials to discuss the process of land reclamation.

Chung-Ho Lin, lead scientist for the bioremediation and natural products research programs at the MU Center for Agroforestry, and Leszek Vincent, a CAFNR adjunct professor with research interests in medicinal plant science (pharmacognosy), meet weekly as part of the Ukraine Ag Assistance Group.

Ukrainian farmland is riddled with mines and pollutants that need to be removed before farmers can safely enter fields. Soil testing for contaminants such as heavy metals that plants could uptake is part of the MU Center for Agroforestry’s bioremediation programs.

“This is a cause. It is voluntary. Nobody gets paid extra for this work,” says Roberts.

Related story: “When science becomes humanitarian,”

MU educators are working with Ukrainian educators and farmers to help them learn about fescue toxicosis and management.