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UTIA’s Robert Burns Recognized Nationally for Engineering Contributions

Receives Top Award from ASABE Structures and Environment Division

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — An engineer with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has been recognized with the top honor from the Structures and Environment Division of the American Society for Agricultural and Biosystems Engineers. Robert Burns, distinguished professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, received the Henry Giese Structures and Environment Award during the ASABE Annual International Meeting held earlier in July.

Established in 1988 and endowed by the family of Henry Giese, the award commemorates Giese’s lifelong accomplishments in farm building design, research and teaching. It recognizes outstanding and meritorious achievement in advancing the knowledge of science of agricultural structures and environment, to include rural human housing.

Burns has many accolades to his name. Among them, he was elected to the 2016 Class of ASABE Fellows for his career of service to the profession and for improving environmental stewardship of animal production worldwide as an administrator, researcher and Extension engineer. A renown air quality expert, he currently serves on two important committees that advise the USDA and United Nations on issues related to agricultural production and air quality: the USDA Agricultural Air Quality Task Force and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Technical Advisory Group on Methane. He also serves as the Chair of the National Pork Producers Council Air Science Advisory Committee.

“Dr. Burns’ appointments are reflective of his national and global prominence in the areas of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural operations,” says Hongwei Xin, dean of UT AgResearch. “This award is a very fitting recognition of his outstanding and significant accomplishments in advancing the knowledge of science of agricultural structures and environment.” Xin is also an ASABE Fellow and past recipient of the Giese Structures and Environment Award.

Prior to being named as a distinguished professor, Burns served from 2010-2020 as assistant dean, associate dean and dean for UT Extension, managing agricultural and natural resource and community economic development programs in all 95 counties in Tennessee. While dean his duties also included responsibility for family and consumer science and the 4-H youth development programs. He has also served on the faculty of Iowa State University and as a National Conservation Engineer with USDA-NRCS. Early in his career, Burns spent nine years on the faculty of the UT Institute of Agriculture as a water quality specialist supporting county-based programming on animal waste management and nutrient management for livestock and poultry operations.

In his current role as a distinguished professor, Burns serves as the UT precision livestock farming specialist with a 70% Extension appointment and a 30% research appointment. Work associated with precision livestock farming is among UTIA’s priorities in terms of serving the information and educational needs of regional producers. Burns’ responsibilities include the application of technology to collect and analyze data to better monitor and manage animal production system components including animal environment, housing systems, feed and watering systems, manure collection, storage, treatment and application systems as well as other production system components. 

A registered professional engineer, Burns holds a B.S. in agricultural engineering, M.S. in environmental engineering, and Ph.D. in civil engineering all from the University of Tennessee. He is a native of Walland, Tennessee, growing up on a beef cattle and tobacco farm. A self-proclaimed product of the land-grant educational system, Burns first became acquainted with UT Extension when he joined 4-H in the fourth grade.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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Robert Burns, Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science