Dr. Bob Thaler, a professor and SDSU Extension Swine Specialist, recently received the Richard Wahlstrom Animal Science Award for Excellence in Scholarship at South Dakota State University.
Each year the award is given to a faculty member in the Department of Animal Science to recognize outstanding scholarship in the areas of teaching, research, extension and/or outreach.
“Dr. Thaler’s efforts at promoting the national swine and agricultural industry, as well as enhancing educational opportunities for all students at SDSU, demonstrates he is well deserving of the Richard Wahlstrom Animal Science Award for Excellence in Scholarship,” said Rosie Nold, assistant head of the Department of Animal Science.
Thaler has been a faculty member at SDSU for the past 32 years. He graduated with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from SDSU and a Ph.D. from Kansas State University. In his role as a professor, Thaler has taught a wide range of classes in animal nutrition, swine production, agriculture and global health, and current issues in animal and range sciences. Additionally, he created an online swine nutrition class as part of the Swine Science Certificate online program.
He also developed two international travel classes to China and Vietnam in which students take a semester-long course studying international agriculture in the countries and then get to go on a study abroad trip to the countries at the end of the semester.
Thaler was honored by his students by being selected as the college’s Teacher of the Year in 2000 and 2006. He has also served as an advisor for the Swine Club, Block and Bridle, and Little International.
As the SDSU Extension Swine Specialist, several of Thaler’s main extension programs are the state environmental training for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and working with colleagues on the Pork Quality Assurance and Transport Quality Assurance programs. He has spent significant time in the last seven years helping producers responsibly site new livestock operations, which includes providing information on odor control, manure management, economics, etc.
Thaler’s applied research program is a large part of his extension work. Despite not having a formal research appointment, in the past five years he has secured over $450,000 in external funding as principal investigator and over $750,000 as a collaborator. One recent critical and timely research project focused on developing strategies to handle mass burial of pig carcasses in case of a catastrophic death loss caused by a foreign animal disease.
“Dr. Thaler’s extension program has adjusted to fulfill the needs of the swine industry which has undergone considerable changes in structure over the course of his career,” Nold said.
Thaler advocated to secure 100% of the funds required to complete the state-of-the-art Swine Education and Research Facility at SDSU in 2016. The facility benefits the state and region, SDSU students and researchers, and national pork production advocacy programs. As a direct result of the new facility, the swine research team at SDSU grew from two faculty and one graduate student to six faculty and over 20 graduate students, technicians and post-docs. The facility also offers hands-on experiences in swine production to over 180 undergraduate students each year.
The creation of Operation Main Street in collaboration with the National Pork Board is another example of Thaler’s efforts at advocating for the swine industry. The live virtual barn tour program utilizes the new swine unit and SDSU graduate and undergraduate students to educate the non-agricultural community on current swine production standards.
Thaler is routinely invited by national agriculture interest groups to promote U.S. agriculture in many of the major U.S. agricultural-export countries.
The award is given in honor of Richard Wahlstrom, a retired faculty member of the Department of Animal Science.
“This is one of the most meaningful awards I’ve received since it is named after Dr. Rick Wahlstrom,” Thaler said. “Rick was my master’s advisor and one of the best mentors a person could have. Rick continues to be a tremendous resource and friend to me throughout all these years, both as a faculty person and human being.”