MEET DON UCHTMANN
Coffee with colleagues, historically a daily routine in many university departments, often forges additional professional alliances. For Don Uchtmann, now a Professor Emeritus in the department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois , that routine marked the beginning of his involvement with farmdoc .
“One day over coffee, I began a casual conversation with Darrell Good about the evolving farmdoc project,” said Uchtmann. “He told me how several faculty in marketing, and other areas, were coming together to develop this really powerful web site.
“I said, ‘Well, that's very, very interesting,' and I realized there were a lot of law and taxation issues that would fit nicely in a grouping that involves farm management and marketing, as well as other issues of importance to ag producers.”
Uchtmann became a member of the farmdoc team shortly after that informal meeting and today works with another ag law colleague, Bryan Endres, to plan and prepare the material that goes in the Law and Taxation section of the farmdoc website.
Uchtmann received his MA in Economic Development from the University of Leeds, England, in 1972 and his Juris Doctor degree from Cleveland State University in 1974. That fall, he joined the faculty in the Department of Agricultural Economics at the U of I with a three-way appointment in teaching, research, and extension.
“I began as an assistant professor, teaching a course on agricultural law. My Extension work took me all over the state on a variety of different topics related to law and agriculture,” said Uchtmann. “Much of my early research focused on water issues and drainage, while later research included a close examination of agricultural issues in estate planning and the applicability of the federal estate tax to agricultural estates.”
Uchtmann's career has also included several years of “very exciting and challenging administrative positions” in the department and within the college. He was appointed the acting head of Agricultural Economics in 1987. Beginning i n 1988 he served as Acting Associate Dean in the College of Agriculture and as Director of the Cooperative Extension Service for a year-and-a-half, and then served formally in that role for another six years.
Today, Uchtmann is a Professor Emeritus of agricultural law , and his contributions to farmdoc encompass a broad range of topics.
“One research interest of mine is the application of law to agricultural bio-technology," he said. “That includes the regulatory system and liability issues related to growing genetically engineered crops. So we created an area in Law and Taxation that deals with those issues. As an example, we were able to help many farmers during the Starlink ‘incident.'”
Starlink was a genetically engineered corn variety approved for use in the United States for feed purposes, but not for food purposes. Some of the grain was inadvertently diverted into food and export channels and many farmers' grain was rejected because it had been commingled with Starlink grain. A class action lawsuit was filed by farmers around the country against the company that had developed Starlink.
“That lawsuit was settled and there were millions of dollars that needed to be distributed to producers who would file claims,” said Uchtmann. “I wrote a series of articles about how to file claims and about the extension of the filing deadline.
“That series was extremely helpful, not just to Illinois farmers, but to farmers around the country,” he said. “Through farmdoc , we were able to address a specific problem that had a specific time dimension.”
Uchtmann has also written articles that address such topics as legal issues related to the selling of agricultural products, agricultural leasing situations, water use in Illinois, and the special application of labor laws to agricultural employment.
“We also have an extensive discussion of certain tax issues,” said Uchtmann, “thanks to the work of another colleague, Gary Hoff, in preparing materials for the taxation site.”
In addition, Uchtmann was an integral part of Farm Income 2007.
“Every December, we hold a series of meetings that look ahead to issues that will affect the pocketbook of farmers in the coming year. That takes the whole farmdoc team out on the road.”
Uchtmann grew up on a farm and maintains very close ties to production agriculture. “I still help to manage some farmland here in Illinois , and my brother is an operating farmer,” he said.
In his spare time, Uchtmann says he enjoys many things that “take me outdoors. Since my work often keeps me at a desk, I enjoy gardening in the summer, or just hiking and walking. I also enjoy music and traveling, and of course, I'm enjoying my children and grandchildren more and more.” Uchtmann and his wife, Nancy , have three children and two grandchildren.
Like most of his colleagues, Uchtmann has high praise for farmdoc.
“In many ways, the University is an environment in which people work primarily as solo acts. Farmdoc is truly a collaborative effort among some very fine colleagues. It's the strongest example I can think of within the department where faculty break out of the ‘professor as a solo act' mode, and work and collaborate with departmental colleagues as a team to accomplish something that is very important.”
To learn more about Don Uchtmann, visit his homepage here.
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