Stronger ties encouraged between Fresno State, agriculture (video)

The Fresno BeeMay 9, 2014 

Fresno State and agricultural leaders unveiled a plan Friday for forging a partnership that they said will benefit both the university and the region's largest industry.

"California agriculture is proud to stand here, shoulder to shoulder, with Fresno State as we embark on this adventure," Hanford dairyman George Soares said outside the Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market at California State University, Fresno.

Soares, owner of Log Haven Dairy, serves as co-chairman of the President's Commission on the Future of Agriculture.

Fresno State President Joseph Castro created the commission as part of a commitment he made to agriculture when he took over the university's helm last summer.

Castro, the first Fresno State president from the central San Joaquin Valley, said he created the commission on his 100th day in office. "Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in California and the No. 1 industry in the country, and we've had a long and rich history of serving that industry successfully," he said Friday. "The report is "about building from the successes we already have."

The university's Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology is recognized for its programs, but the university can do more, Castro said. "I have challenged our campus to be bold," he said.

The preliminary report from the 19 commissioners identified areas for attention that include: creating stronger industry partnerships, expanding the number of faculty and staff, and increasing the number of student internships.

The report called for support for Castro's campus/industry task force to coordinate existing water-related programs at Fresno State and to redefine the university as a recognized leader in the area of water technology, water resource management and policy.

The university also should create new water-related majors and minors for students and increase the use of the on-campus Water and Energy Technology Center for internships and career development.

The report recommended creating a food and agriculture institute to promote partnerships with farm and food industries and to be a clearinghouse for internships programs, among other duties.

It also recommends increasing the number of faculty and staff, creating a high-tech creamery/dairy and meat processing plants and preserving the University Farm Laboratory for agricultural purposes.

But the announcement by Castro that the university's farm land "will not shrink under my presidency" drew applause from about 150 people invited to discuss the report at the North Gym.

The farm provides students with hands-on experience in areas such as plant and animal health, said Pat Ricchiuti, owner of P-R Farms, Inc., and chairman of the Agricultural Foundation that runs the Gibson Farm Market.

Fresno State has 1,000 acres for farm crops that are used for research and serve as outdoor classrooms for students. Five years ago, the university had 1,100 acres, Ricchiuti said.

Bruce Roberts, an agronomy professor, agreed with the report's recommendation for the need to increase the number of faculty and staff to prepare students for careers in agriculture.

The plant science department has increased over the past 10 years from 58 students to 270 today -- but faculty and staff numbers have not grown to match, he said.

Roberts said the commissioners correctly recommended that partnerships between the university and industry are essential to building the university's staff and infrastructure.

The plant science department is adding a faculty member this summer with an endowment from the California Pistachio Research Board, he said. The job had been vacant for about five years.

Agriculture is willing to invest in the university , Roberts said, because it wants "trained students who can go into the industry well-trained and well-prepared to be managers and scientists."

The commissioners have been meeting since December to develop the preliminary report. Castro said Friday they will continue meeting to fine-tune the plan and to make recommendations for implementing it.

The university and the ag industry must work together "if we are to prepare our next generation," Soares said.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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