Commentary: UC seeks advice as it wrestles with ongoing budget cuts


Issue Date: February 1, 2012
By Barbara Allen-Diaz
As it copes with budget cuts, the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources says it wants to ensure that Cooperative Extension farm advisors can continue to make science-based information readily available to address agricultural problems.
Photo/Bob Johnson
Barbara Allen-Diaz

The University of California has a long and multifaceted relationship with the people of California. Many of you graduated from UC, and many of you have children studying on one of our 10 campuses now. In addition to its direct benefits, UC generates $46.3 billion in annual economic activity for California, and contributes $32.8 billion to the gross state product.

For more than a century, UC has sustained a unique and productive partnership with the agricultural community through our Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. ANR is the statewide UC organization responsible for implementing our public service mission through Cooperative Extension and the Agricultural Experiment Station. We are dedicated to providing the best, science-based solutions to address emerging issues in agriculture, challenges to natural resources, improvements in nutrition, and fostering the development of California's youth. Many of you grew up in 4-H or have participated in or benefited from ANR programs, which include Integrated Pest Management, the Ag Issues Center, 4-H Youth Development and Master Gardeners.

ANR carries out our research and service mission primarily through the innovative, problem-solving academics and other professionals of Cooperative Extension in counties all across California, at nine Research and Extension Centers, and through our Davis, Riverside and Berkeley campus faculty partners with Agricultural Experiment Station appointments.

UC researchers are vital links in finding solutions to current problems and creating the innovations to ensure the future productivity of California agriculture. For example, about 65 percent of the strawberries produced in California grow from UC-developed varieties. ANR research and extension scientists identified key points in rice production and postharvest management, leading to a better understanding of production and processing variables that has enabled farmers to harvest rice at lower moisture content, reduce drying costs, better preserve rice in storage and increase profitability.

Our ANR Strategic Vision study identified nine initiatives as core to our work, and five of those are targeted for specific further investment: food systems, water, natural ecosystems, endemic and invasive pests and diseases, and healthy families and communities. With each initiative, we focus our increasingly scarce research dollars on solving specific, high-impact problems.

The decline in state support for public higher education has presented us and our campus partners an enormous challenge. In response to recent budget reductions, ANR decreased administrative costs by consolidating business offices and program support units, finding new homes for some long-standing units, eliminating positions and closing programs.

At this time, we do not know how the most recent $100 million permanent cut to the UC base budget or the potential, additional cuts in 2012-13 will translate to reductions in our programs.

We are very concerned about the impact on the number of specialists and advisors—we are at the lowest number in more than 60 years. We are also challenged by our aging work force. We expect half of our current specialists and advisors to retire in the next six to eight years. We are carefully planning for replacing these positions, and determining the specialties and locations to best serve the needs of California. This planning must be informed by our various clienteles.

I have instituted a new hiring process to include more explicit statewide input from constituents. Our program teams will directly seek input from clientele in their program areas. The type of academic position, appropriate location and specialization of the position will be discussed for every new recruitment proposal.

We are being proactive in facing budget realities and searching for new, stronger ways to provide UC and ANR campus and county-based research and programs to industries, agencies and local communities. We continue our efforts to develop multi-county partnerships in order to reduce administrative costs to both UC and county governments. Cooperative Extension advisors will have multi-county program responsibilities, and continue to conduct local research and deliver education programming to local constituencies.

We are working with many of you to develop new partnerships and strengthen existing ones. We want to explore ways to continue to integrate Cooperative Extension programs with local and regional needs, and we want to ensure that science-based information is readily accessible to solve problems affecting California agriculture. We ask for your assistance in securing additional funding for Cooperative Extension positions and program support directly through your commodity boards and through other means.

As we enter 2012, UC will focus on implementation of the additional $100 million cut. There will be continued public concern over the rising cost of a UC education for California students. Less visible, perhaps in the public eye, is the university's commitment through the AES and CE to seek and disseminate solutions to critical problems facing agriculture, natural resources and youth development.

ANR is a vital conduit between the research power of the university and the implementation of practical solutions in the fields, groves and processing facilities of California.

We will need your support.

I look forward to working with you and to hearing your ideas on priorities for research innovations, priorities in your area that need science-based solutions, and ideas on strengthening our partnership in the years to come.

(Barbara Allen-Diaz is vice president of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the University of California. She may be reached at anr-vpallen-diaz@ucop.edu.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.