Chancellor's Recent Speeches

Remarks by Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, California State University
The California State University’s Partnership with Agriculture
California Farm Bureau Federation

Monday, December 3, 2007
Sparks, Nevada

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you today.

I wanted to come here today with a very simple message, which is that the California State University wants to help you. We want you to see us as your partner.

And with the events of the last two months -- the massive devastation caused by this latest round of extreme wind and wildfires -- that message is more urgent than ever.

We all watched with horror at the destruction caused not only to people and homes but to our valuable agricultural commodities. I read the story of one farmer who lost everything – all 1,500 of his avocado trees. And that’s just one farmer. That’s not even to mention the damage to nurseries, rangeland, vineyards, and so on.

With the fire’s scope of damage this major, every single one of us in California, whether we are directly involved in the agricultural industry or not, will ultimately be affected.

That is why our message is more important than ever. We want to be there to help you identify needs, and to serve you in whatever way we can.

The California State University

For those of you who don’t know much about the California State University, I want to start with a brief background. The CSU is a system of 23 campuses, focused on teaching and undergraduate learning, and it is the largest university system in the world.

We have 450,000 students and 46,000 employees. We prepare more than 96,000 graduates per year for the state’s workforce.

We also are perhaps the most representative of the statewide student body. We look like California. Our student body is nearly 56 percent students of color, and about 30 percent of our students are the first in their families to attend college.

When it comes to agriculture, California is the clear leader in the country. And the CSU is there to prepare those students for your industry.

Five of our campuses have agricultural programs: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly Pomona, Fresno State, CSU Chico, and Humboldt State.

We enroll more than 5,700 students in our Ag programs. Last year, we granted more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate agriculture degrees and we are growing agricultural enrollment again. This year we saw a 5 percent increase.

All told, the CSU prepares more than half of the state’s graduates in agriculture-related majors.

Working with the Agricultural Industry

As the state’s educational leader in agriculture, we have been focusing our energy on finding ways to work with our state’s agricultural industry.

We’ve started by doing as much listening as we can.

Two and a half years ago we held a forum with California’s agricultural leaders from around the state. One major outgrowth of that forum was to create an Agricultural Advisory Committee.

That committee meets twice a year and keeps us up-to-date on many of the major issues that the people who hire our graduates are dealing with. Some of those members are George Soares, Charlie Hoppin, Jim Coleman, George Foster, Dee Lacey, Pat Ricchiutu and George Gomes.

During these sessions, you’ve told us what you want from our students. We’ve gotten the message about the skills that you need: use of technology, multiple languages, a global perspective, the ability to work in teams and working with government regulations. We’ve been working to ensure that students have many opportunities to develop those skills in our classes.

The committee has also been talking about the need for students to understand the rigorous regulatory environment regarding rules in air quality, food safety, and more. There is a great need for graduates who understand how environmental and OSHA regulations affect the Ag industry, and how the industry complies with them.

We’ve also heard the message that you want help recruiting more good students into the field.

I know many of you saw a recent front-page story in the L.A. Times about how many state agricultural workers like plant doctors or agricultural commissioners are getting close to retirement, while enrollment in many agriculture programs is dropping.

Our campuses are working hard to attract more students by showing how complex and challenging the field can be. For example, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is attracting new students by emphasizing the high-tech, interdisciplinary nature of agriculture. The agriculture department is working with the civil and environmental engineering department to find new ways to turn livestock manure into electricity. They’re also working with the physics department to explore how microbes and essential proteins and amino acids work in dairy and other food products.

Sustainability is another big topic. The Agricultural Advisory Committee has been urging us to position ourselves as leaders in areas such as biofuels and organics. For example, CSU Chico’s dairy shifted from conventional milk production to organic, becoming the first university in the West to do so.

The goal is to meet some of the increased demand for organic products and to give students hands-on experience in this growing field.

Also, our campuses are staying on the cutting edge of multi-disciplinary research. For example, in the growing field of agricultural biotechnology, we have 133 CSU faculty members carrying out research projects on 21 campuses. These critical research areas include plant biochemistry and genetics, and plant response to disease and environmental challenges.

Assistance in Applied Research

Another major area of focus is applied research. California’s agricultural colleges have been working with the state’s agricultural industry for more than a century.

However, during the past 25 years the CSU’s role has changed dramatically from that of primarily a teaching function to one of both teaching and applied research, outreach, and technology transfer.

I know many of you are familiar with the CSU’s Agricultural Research Initiative, also known as ARI, which contributes targeted, high-value, applied research in support of California’s agricultural businesses.

Faculty and students at our Fresno, Chico, Pomona, and San Luis Obispo campuses do research on such topics as increasing crop yields and food safety, improving harvesting techniques, specialty crop development, reclamation of soils affected by salinization, pest and weed reduction, sustainable agriculture, and irrigation science and water conservation.

Approximately 350 to 400 students enhance their classroom and scientific laboratory experiences by working on ARI-funded research projects throughout California each year.

Because they work side-by-side in real time with industry personnel, they are often better prepared than other students without similar experience to enter the professional workforce.

During the last five years, ARI has partially funded more than 200 single- and multi-year priority research projects with its $20 million in state general fund allocations ($4 million each year).

These projects have in turn successfully leveraged state base funding by nearly 7.5 to 1, generating almost $150 million in additional master grants, federal appropriations, and external match funding.

And yet the demand is still greater than we can meet. Currently ARI is only able to fund between 25 and 35 percent of all qualified proposal submissions, after honoring its earlier multi-year commitments. That’s why the CSU, with support from the Agricultural Industry Advisory Group, is requesting a $6 million state General Fund budget augmentation to the ARI budget. We believe it’s an exemplary cost-effective applied research program that can help guarantee the continued vitality of California agriculture.

I want to give you just one example of how when our experts are called upon to address an urgent need, we can mobilize into action.

At its October meeting, the CSU Agricultural Advisory Committee asked the CSU to help bring its expertise and knowledge to bear on an issue that affects all of us – the state’s looming water crisis – and how water shortages and quality issues will affect agriculture in California.

In response, we are building on our strengths to expand the CSU applied research and education programs to everything connected with water resources and policy issues in the state.

In the last month, we initiated a call for faculty expertise in water resources and policy issues.

More than 200 faculty have already responded to our call. Their expertise includes such topics as measuring and reducing water contaminants, optimizing irrigation techniques, reducing canal seepage, watershed protection and stream restoration, developing drought resistant plant stocks…just to name a few.

These faculty and their students monitor water issues and make policy recommendations to such groups as the regional and state Water Resources Control Board, Metropolitan Water Districts, Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Fish and Game, and a host of other agencies and foundations.

This month, we will identify a leader within this CSU faculty group who has the expertise and vision to work with their colleagues in the CSU, as well as major stakeholders such as agribusiness, to develop and implement a highly applied research and education program that will target California’s water resources and policy development needs.

This new program will be designed to function as a clearinghouse for objective research on California’s water resources and usage, and as an incubator for new research and education programs that address – from a practical, hands-on perspective – the water resources challenges we face.

All of that is a very long way of saying: If you call on us, we will be there to help.

I hope that this brief summary has given you a good idea of the kinds of things that the CSU can do with its partners in the agricultural field.

Let me wrap things up by saying once again – We are here to help you. Please don’t hesitate to tell us what you need from us and from our students. With all of the combined resources at our fingertips, we believe we can serve as a valuable resource in solving some of the toughest problems facing our state right now.

And with your assistance and feedback, we can continue to improve our own curriculum and training to prepare exactly the kind of professionals that you are looking to hire in the future.

We look forward to working together on strengthening the agricultural industry and meeting the many challenges that lie ahead.

Thank you very much. I will be glad to answer any questions you may have.