David L. Harmon: 2024-25 University Research Professor Q&A


UKNow is highlighting the University of Kentucky’s 2024-25 University Research Professors. Established by the Board of Trustees in 1976, the professorship program recognizes excellence across the full spectrum of research at UK and is sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Research.  

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 21, 2024) — David L. Harmon, Ph.D., director of graduate studies and professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the University of Kentucky Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, has been honored as a 2024-25 University Research Professor.

Harmon joined UK in 1991 and is a ruminant nutritionist with a primary focus in beef cattle. The end result of his efforts is to improve feeding practices for ruminants — animals that have four-chambered stomachs, including cattle, sheep and goats.

Harmon’s research has supported the training of more than 50 students. He has authored or co-authored 225 refereed journal articles and 250 abstracts, reports and popular press articles and garnered more than $7 million dollars in support of his animal nutrition research.

Harmon spoke with UKNow about his latest honor as a University Research Professor in this Q&A.

UKNow: What does it mean to you to be recognized as a University Research Professor?

Harmon: It is the highest recognition, to be recognized by one’s peers. I think back on all the students that I have had the pleasure of working with and how they have all contributed to this accomplishment. Research is not a sole endeavor. It is a group effort and involves the contributions of many.

UKNow: How will the professorships program advance your research?

Harmon: This opportunity and recognition will add to our efforts in providing advanced training for graduate students. It will aid in helping these students travel and share their results with others.

UKNow: How does your research address challenges facing Kentucky?

Harmon: My research addresses challenges that cattle producers face such as fescue toxicosis, which is a problem caused by toxins produced by a natural fungus in the grass. We are studying how these toxins alter the physiology of cattle and how we might counter these perturbations.

In addition, we are studying how we can overcome digestive limitations exhibited in ruminants consuming grain-based diets to improve their digestive efficiency. Both of those areas address limits to producer profitability in our state.

UKNow: What impact will your research have on Kentucky?

Harmon: Research has an impact on many levels and one of these is people. Research not only solves problems but it provides advanced training for students who ultimately go on to serve the animal industries we are supporting. 

The second area is the results research provides. Every experimental outcome is a new piece to a giant puzzle that contributes to problem solving. Some pieces are bigger than others, but they all contribute. 

Our goal is to conduct research that contributes to answering questions that helps Kentuckians produce food in a more efficient and sustainable manner. Specifically, the development and implantation of strategies that mitigate the negative effects of fescue toxicosis that are responsible for reducing farmer profits and developing technologies that improve the digestive efficiencies of Kentucky cattle on grain diets. Both will increase Kentucky farmer productivity and profits.

About the University Research Professors
Each year, the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees approves a cohort of faculty as University Research Professors. The distinction recognizes excellence in work that addresses scientific, social, cultural and economic challenges in Kentucky and the world.

College leadership developed criteria for excellence within their area of expertise and then nominated faculty who excelled at these criteria. Each University Research Professor receives a one-year award of $10,000 and participates in other events planned around the program.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.