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UC extension leaders tout fresh start
Farmers must weigh in on what’s important, research vice president says

by Tam Moore, Capital Press 7/4/08

TULELAKE - It's back to the future for the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, starting this summer.

After two decades of staff and program cuts, leaders promise a fresh look at the support California farmers need to prosper in years ahead.

Growers attending the Thursday, June 26, field day at Intermountain Research and Extension Center got a sneak preview of the process.

Barbara Allen-Diaz, ANR assistant vice president for extension and research, said the university will get beyond "doing more and more with less and less," which has been the case during more than 20 years of lean budgets.

For J.W. Cope of Winema Elevators, a Klamath Basin grain merchandising business, the future is what happens to the UC small grain research program when statewide specialist Lee Jackson retires this fall.

"I'm concerned. I've heard that the grain specialist position is being eliminated ... that a decision has been made," Cope told Allen-Diaz in a pre-lunch forum.

Cope worries that university variety testing will be phased out, leaving the business to the giant breeders "like Monsanto and Pioneer."

No decision has been made, Allen-Diaz said, and the strategic plan will give everyone a chance to look at all ANR programs. In addition to statewide extension programs such as forage and small grains, the division has nine centers dealing with things as varied as "agriculture issues" and mosquito research and operates regional and county farm advisor offices.

What's different from past strategic planning, said Allen-Diaz, is that ANR leadership is pledged to go to bat for priority programs "at the highest level" of the university, the Board of Regents. Those who control budgets will get special attention as the case is made for ANR programs identified in the plan.

She said it's up to farmers and other users of extension programs to weigh in on what's important to them, just as Cope did in his Tulelake conversation.

The university's new president, Mark Yudof, who's been on the job one month, launched his administration by cutting 400 jobs from the UC Office of the President.

Dan Dooley, the new UC vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources, began work in January. Allen-Diaz, an oak woodlands ecologist by training and a veteran administrator, took on her job 10 months ago.

"There's a new sheriff in town," said Harry Carlson, the Tulelake research center director and area farm advisor. "The new leadership is open to new ideas."

Carlson, who retires this coming winter, launched the strategic planning session. He will be calling on growers and UC researchers who use the Tulelake site to weigh in on what's important. He said most interviews would be done in August, giving Allen-Diaz a plan for the station that can be available when she begins recruiting for Carlson's replacement.

The Tulelake site was used for California's first open-air test of a genetically-engineered organism, later marketed as Ice Minus, a frost protection bacteria, in the 1980s. It is one of several UC stations involved in testing the controversial Roundup Ready alfalfa varieties, and next year it will probably be the site for tests of genetically modified onion and garlic cultivars thought to be resistant to white rot disease.

This is the 60th year for agricultural research at Tulelake. Carlson has directed the programs for 25 of those years, spaced between a stint as coordinator for all UC research centers.

"We realize we won't be able to look far into the future," he said. But on paper, at least, the planning question is "the next 60 years" for the station.

Freelance writer Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. E-mail: moore.tam@gmail.com.

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