URBANA — With a $5 million pledge from financial services company TIAA-CREF, the University of Illinois plans to establish a center for farmland research on campus.
Its faculty and staff will conduct research and outreach activities focusing on farmland values, taxation, rental agreements and more. According to papers filed with the campus, the center will "foster a coordination of research in the area and provide a much larger platform from which to continue and expand this leadership."
Faculty in the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences already are active in research and outreach in this area. The department publishes the popular farmdoc website  that features databases, reports, analysis and more on topics from crop insurance to land policies.
The university will officially launch the TIAA-CREF Center for Farmland Research in mid-March.
Department head Paul Ellinger said university officials would withhold comment until the official launch of the center. TIAA-CREF officials also declined comment, referring questions to the UI.
TIAA-CREF is a New York City-based financial services company with about $495 billion in assets under management. Last year, the company announced it had formed a $2 billion global farmland investing company, with farmland in the U.S., Australia and Brazil. In 2010, the company bought a controlling interest in the Champaign farm management company Westchester, which managed $1 billion in agricultural assets.
The TIAA-CREF Center for Farmland Research at the UI will have a projected annual budget of about $200,000. It will be funded, at least initially, by income from the $5 million endowment pledged by TIAA-CREF.
Donations from other sources also will be sought. The goal is for the center to be self-supporting after three years, according to the proposal for the center.
An advisory board comprised of both faculty and representatives from TIAA-CREF will be established. That board is proposed to include three members from TIAA or its designees and three faculty members from the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. Members from TIAA will be chosen by the company or its designee and the faculty members will be chosen by the department head in consultation with the center director.
A director, a tenured professor from the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, will be appointed by the department head in consultation with the advisory board.
In addition to the director, center staff will include an academic professional, computer programmers and current support staff in the department.
The center also will support educational programs, curriculum development and organize an annual workshop on farmland markets. The center may also offer continuing education credit to accredited farmland managers and real estate professions.
The center proposal has been reviewed by the Urbana campus's Academic Senate and now goes to the UI Board of Trustees for approval.