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Babylon

Posted by: | December 7, 2009 | 1 Comment |

December 7, 2009

Today we headed off to visit the University of Babylon, located in Hilla in Babil province, about 100 km south of Baghdad.

Because we would be leaving the IZ and going into territory that still has the potential for violence, we left early with our PSD and PPOs (personal protection officers) in our IBAs and helmets.  I was assigned to the Bravo vehicle as usual, with Chad, our PPO, and Cesar, our driver; in addition we had the Alpha, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot SUVs.

Foxtrot Gunner

Foxtrot Gunner

Foxtrot brought up the rear, which also had a gunner sticking his head out.  Chad was telling us that just yesterday they had received a G2 (intelligence) that there had been trouble in the area we were to go to.

The really amazing thing about our PSDs was how they prevented other vehicles from coming close to our convoy – reminded me of football blocks and basketball pick and roll moves, if one can imagine that being done in huge, armored SUVs.  The other thing is that most Iraqis give these SUVs like our PSDs and the others, of whom there are numerous ones on the road, all the room.

Security

Security

Whenever we stopped, the PPOs jumped out, checked the surroundings, the buildings, etc., and only after securing the place, would allow us to get out.

They take their jobs seriously – I asked Chad what kind of defensive weapons they carried – everything from an M4 and Glock to smoke bombs, along with some heavier guns, and they also receive air support if needed, including latest road conditions ahead.

We drove through Camp Victory as an alternate, longer route, because the shorter route apparently goes through an area considered to be dangerous.  Getting in and out of Camp Victory is serious business, and one needs a passport or other identification and papers to prove you belong there.  One sees signs all around that say:  “Danger:  Use of Deadly Force Authorized.”  As vehicles enter, soldiers and others carrying weapons are expected to clear their weapons.  Camp Victory has high walls, concertina wires, T-Walls, watchtowers, and security galore.

Saddam Unfinished Palace

Saddam Unfinished Palace

Along the way we saw a couple of Saddam’s unfinished palaces – apparently he built 58 to 100 such palaces around the country, many of which he may have stayed in just for a day or others that were never finished, and the current government has no intention of completing.

Fancy Homes

Fancy Homes

As we left Camp Victory and headed south, the scenery changed to a more rural, pastoral one, women working in their small farms growing grapes, vegetables, wheat, corn, turnips, lettuce, potatoes, onions, alfalfa, sheep, etc.  Looking at this pastoral scene, I was hard pressed to imagine the conflict that’s been going for the last almost thirty years.

The really sad part is that the farmers continue to use flood irrigation, which results in significant salinity, so much so that the fields are abandoned because of the white, salt encrustations – visible even from a moving vehicle.

Salinity

Salinity

Salinity is going to be the bane of agriculture around the world, but particularly for Iraqis, and there is serious work to be done on irrigation, salt tolerant plants, alternative approaches to production practices, etc.  The further south we headed, the more green the countryside appeared to be and also more prosperous farmsteads and homes.

Clearing Magazine

Clearing Magazine

As we drove on, the mandatory checkpoints, armored vehicles, MRAPs with American soldiers, ECMs (electronic counter measure vehicles to detect IEDs), etc. But traffic seemed to flow, and they made way for our convoy, even on very crowded streets and roundabouts in Hilla, a town of about 400,000 people.

Gas Station

Gas Station

Another interesting sight one sees along the highway – or does not see – are gas stations.  The latter have been favorite targets of the insurgents.  What I discovered instead are trucking containers, which look like they are made of heavy, reinforced metal, painted red and white are used to store the gasoline and from which it is dispensed.  Some of them are painted with the word “Petrol”, while others have the word “Patrol”.

University of Babylon

University of Babylon

We arrived at the University of Babylon around mid-morning, and met with a number of individuals, including the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Jawwad Al Janabi, and the deans of colleges of agriculture from Babylon and neighboring areas as well.  Unfortunately, Pres. Nabeel Al Araji, who had visited OSU and met with Pres. Ed Ray and others on our campus, was out of the country at a conference.

After introductions, we listened to them and gave them an overview of landgrants and our universities and colleges and particular strengths. Yet again the needs at these institutions revolved around dealing with the problem of the “lost generations”, i.e., since 1980 the colleges have been at a standstill or have lost capacity.  They need help retooling their faculty – there is a lot of inbreeding; improved capacity and infrastructure; opportunities for graduate studies.  This seems to be the recurring theme – the 10,000 scholarships are going to be one small step in the right direction, but only a drop in the bucket.

What they need is significant investments in education.  We proposed that our universities can indeed host their faculty on short term retooling visits and also offer graduate opportunities for the students; we also proposed creating a consortium of landgrants to offer education and training.  I proposed that at least for the first cohort of individuals they focus on helping enhance capacity in basic agricultural disciplines such as crop science, horticulture, plant protection, soil and water issues, animal husbandry, etc.  Then, once capacity has been built back up, future cohorts might seek education and training in the more modern/fundamental areas as well, such as molecular biology, plant genetics and breeding, etc.  I also proposed maybe using the model that was effective in India and other countries during the last green revolution, i.e., each college be adopted by an American landgrant to offer a comprehensive program of education, training, capacity and infrastructure building, etc., with funding from the Iraqi government and from the United States.  Dr. Ahmed Araji, our host, asked us to make explicit recommendations on approaches we may suggest.  As we were having these conversations, the Deputy Governor of the province walked in to greet us.

North Palace Ruins and Saddam Palace

North Palace Ruins and Saddam Palace

He also made arrangements for us to be offered lunch and a secure visit to the ruins at Babylon.  We left the university campus to visit the ruins at Babylon.

Chandelier

Chandelier

Lunch was served at a restaurant built by Saddam as a private dining facility, with the conspicuous opulence of carvings, chandeliers, and his name carved in everything.  The food was traditional, Iraqi style lamb with rice and bean soup, and lots of unleavened bread.  Then we got a personalized tour of the ruins, guided by the Deputy Director.

According to the Deputy Director, Babylon – the gateway to heaven or gateway to gods – was established by Hammurabi about two centuries Before the Common Era.  It was later ruled by Nebuchednazzar around 600 BCE, followed by Cyrus and Alexander.

Procession Street

Procession Street

Sadly the ruins were ruined by Saddam, who in 1982 rebuilt major sections of the ruins by rebuilding walls above the existing ruined structures – one can see where the lower sections of the walls and structures are the original ruins, and the upper sections are the new structures.  Allegedly each of the bricks used in the new construction has Saddam’s initials carved in!  Not only did Saddam rebuild many of the ruins, he also created an artificial mound and built a huge palace on top.  Talk about hubris.

The ruins include a number of palaces, temples, bazaars, streets, gates, and other structures.

Animal Relief

Animal Relief

Luckily the Gate of Ishtar and the Procession Street have been left intact – on the Gate of Ishtar one can see the beautiful relief work of real and mythical animals that project out of the brickwork.

The Group

The Group

In one of the squares is a basaltic rock sculpture of a lion on top and a human at the bottom – the Babylonian Lion, symbolizing the lion’s power and the human’s humility.  The lion has been defaced pretty badly – the Deputy Director informed us that workers who had found the lion thought there was gold inside the lion’s body and in trying to access the same had broken off the face.

Another myth ruined for me – very much like the myth of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny ruined for children – is that I learned that one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, was just a myth perpetrated by Herodotus.  According to the Deputy Director, there never has been a Hanging Gardens.  Here I was, all excited about seeing another ancient wonder (I have seen most of the ancient and modern wonders of the world), only to discover there never was one!  Regardless, Babylon is awe inspiring – that anywhere between three and four thousand years ago, there were people who built beautiful and precise structures, and the animal reliefs on the brick are indeed a sight to behold.

As we drove back to the IZ in Baghdad, we discussed Babylon, Saddam, Iraq, the lost generations and lost opportunities, and what the future holds, particularly of what our US colleges of agriculture can do to help.  We will work to develop a concept note that will recommend the Iraqis consider modeling their agricultural colleges after the landgrant model.  It will be interesting to see how it might be received and what becomes of it.

The return trip, which lasted for nearly two hours, retraced the morning’s outbound trip.

Until tomorrow.

Ciao,

Sonny

under: Uncategorized

December 6, 2009

Allahu Akbar.  The Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer woke me up at 5:30 this morning.  I had woken up a couple of times in the middle of the night – lot of chopper activity and dogs barking.  (I discovered later from Frank Fear that he had heard some explosives followed by chopper activity).  Each time I turned over and went back to sleep – I finally woke up for good at 6:30.  It was still dark outside – not too cold. I walked over from my room to the villa’s kitchen – got me some coffee, which had been cooking the whole night, and returned to my room, since no one else was up.

Finally, I went down for breakfast– typical breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, fruit, juice, etc.  Dodi Thapa, the young man from Nepal who I had spoken with in Hindi the previous day had made fresh coffee.  Nice and strong.  Finally, one by one, my cohorts showed up.  We discussed the upsets and near upsets in college football – incidentally it was amazing how many apologized for OSU losing to U of O.

We got cleaned up, and our PSD showed up. Taylor, Paul, Chad, Terry and the others.

Taylor Briefing

Taylor Briefing

Taylor pulled out a map to show us our route and briefed us on the procedures to follow.  We were to leave the IZ, so we needed protection, including our IBAs, helmets, etc., and we were headed to the University of Baghdad College of Agriculture in the Abu Ghraib district – yes, the college butts up to the infamous prison in the district.

Camp Victory Tower

Camp Victory Tower

We were to drive by Camp Victory, the multi-national force’s headquarters, a huge complex, and then on to the college campus.  The drive comprised, as we did yesterday, a convoy of SUVs, with a lead vehicle followed by several SUVs carrying our group, trailed by an SUV with a medic, radio antenna, etc.  We were all dressed up in coats, neckties, dress slacks, and our IBAs and helmets.  It was an interesting sight to behold.  Needless to say, Taylor and his colleagues were there to protect us – the ride through some desolate countryside was uneventful – Chad, as usual was vigilant, constantly scanning the area around our SUV – except for the occasional checkpoints,

IED Detector

IED Detector

along with American military vehicles with their IED detectors in the front.

College of Agriculture

College of Agriculture

We made it to campus, and discovered that our host, Dean Hamza, had been called out on an emergency, and apparently had forgotten to inform any one else about our arrival. Dr. Araji was pretty upset, to say the least. However, the assistant dean and several other individuals met with us, recovered, and gave us an overview of their college, and all of the constraints they face.  These constraints are an aging infrastructure – the college was built in the 1950s with the help of the University of Arizona, and faculty who had been trained overseas that either retired or left or have died.  There has been no investment since the 1980s.  The equipment and laboratories and buildings are really old.  Our hosts, Dr. Jawwad, Dr. Sami, and Dr. Hamid, lamented the needs in terms of books, journals, laboratory equipment, better training, etc.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa

The whole nation faces significant agriculutral issues related to low productivity, salinity – the water table is very high and the crops are irrigated as they have been for 5,000 years using open canals and ditches – lack of infrastructure, etc.  Much of the irrigation water is lost to evaporation, and leaves the soil highly saline, making it difficult to grow crops.

Each of us gave an overview of our college’s strengths and I also gave an overview of the land grant mission of our colleges.  Their persistent plea was for us to help them with the very significant issues they face.   I do not think that Iraq can seek to develop much if they do not address their food and agricultural needs, and really they need to build capacity and infrastructure.  The 10,000 scholarships are an effort in the right direction, but it will require a bottom up review and reinvestment in the food and agricultural enterprise.

Sheep

Sheep

We got a tour of the facilities – their research fields where graduate students undertake research and their livestock farms, along with some labs.  The state of the facilities is decrepit; I wonder how Iraq will be able to make progress.  It’s a shame that there are almost two generations of lost opportunities since the 1970s, and particularly during Saddam’s era.  The Iraqi government’s work is cut out, but with their potential oil revenues, they should be able to make the investments to rebuild these colleges.  At least one hopes so.

Outdoor Class

Outdoor Class

We got to meet some of the students – eager, young people interested in developing the skills.  The students, in general, looked like they were very much interested – we even saw an outdoor class in progress.  Some of these students are eligible for the scholarships, and I hope are given an opportunity.  Although this is an Islamic country, it was interesting to see young women, wearing head scarves, walking with and talking to young men, as one might see in the States.

During our visit to campus, Taylor and his PSD group took great care to make sure we were protected.  It was interesting how they parked their SUVs to surround us as we walked around, and the individuals would spread out in a perimeter, check the surroundings, keeping an eye out and scanning for any untoward surprises.  It was amazing to see them work hard to make sure we were protected.  As a matter of fact, in their company I felt completely protected.

The return to the IZ was uneventful.  After lunch, we went to meet with Dr. Zuhair Humadi, a Southern Illinois University graduate and former professor in the US, whose brainchild it is to create the 10,000 scholarships for students to study in the US, UK, and other countries.

Zuhair Humadi

Zuhair Humadi

Dr. Humadi’s operation is located in the IZ, so we drove with Lee and Hope in the black Suburbans for the afternoon session.  Zuhair, a 60-plus, energetic and visionary individual, met with us along with his assistants, Dr. Hakeem, a 70-year old recently retired professor and who had received his degrees in zoology from the University of Kansas and University of Oklahoma, and Maha, a young woman with a degree in English and who had spent a year in the US on a Fulbright.  Zuhair gave us an overview of the scholarship program, and then all of us told him about our colleges and universities – again I had an opportunity to not only speak about our college and OSU, but I also gave an overview of the history of the land grant concept, and how important it has been for the development of America into the most powerful nation on earth.  We all talked about our willingness to host Iraqi students, and we each provided information on admissions, English language requirements, specific majors, opportunities for graduate research and opportunities to host faculty on short term visits and sabbaticals.  The afternoon included the mandatory sweet tea, following which some of their large staff members came to speak to us about our universities, rules, regulations, etc. The afternoon offered an opportunity for Dr. Humadi and his colleagues to learn more about land grants and agricultural colleges; conversely it offered us an opportunity to learn more about the scholarship program.

Ambassador Hill

Ambassador Hill

During the evening, we were hosted at a reception by Ambassador Christopher Hill at his home at the US Embassy complex. The complex is new and huge – it hosts nearly 1,600 Americans, with likely that many or more individuals of other nationalities – behind high, concertina topped walls, and in places with another layer of T-walls.  The security guards at the perimeter are Peruvians.  The food is prepared and served by South Asians.  And then there are a number of others that run the day-to-day operations.

General Hunzeker

General Hunzeker

We got to speak to Amb. Hill, Gen. Hunzeker, second in command to Gen. Odierno (Gen. Hunzeker moved the Big Red One from Germany to Ft. Riley, outside Manhattan, KS, our former home, and from which we benefited, i.e., we were able to sell our house easily before our move to Purdue), Amb. Patricia Haslach, Deputy Chief of Mission and a native of Lake Oswego, Oregon, Ron Verdonk with USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, and several other USDA FAS personnel.  Over wine – from California – and appetizers (samosas and grilled chicken along with chips, vegetables and dip, etc.), we got to interact with the Amb. Hill and the others.  We discovered Amb. Hill and Gen. Hunzeker to be very thoughtful and knowledgeable people, and were very much interested in agricultural development in Iraq and the potential for our universities’ involvement.

Following the reception we walked over to eat dinner, courtesy of the USDA FAS colleagues, at the Embassy cafeteria, along with a number of EPRTs (Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams) who have expertise in poultry production, crop science, water issues, salinity, honey production, etc.  I even got to meet Michael Gangware, an OSU soil scientist.  The conversation, particularly with the EPRTs who are dispersed around the country, was about their challenges, both technical and military, in working with the local communities.

Destruction

Destruction

These are tough people who are really where the “rubber meets the road” as far as America being able to make a difference in helping the Iraqis with capacity building.

Until tomorrow.

Ciao,

Sonny

under: Uncategorized

Baghdad

Posted by: | December 7, 2009 | 1 Comment |

December 5, 2009

Our day started at 5:00 am.  We caught taxis to the Amman airport for our flight to Baghdad.  Although it was still dark, there were a lot of early risers up and about.  In general Jordanian taxi drivers drive fast, weaving in an out of lanes.  Luckily the roads are really good.  Going through security was a cinch, as was getting our boarding passes.

Baghdad Flight

Baghdad Flight

We were at the gate for Baghdad by 6:30 am.  The flight itself left on time – a 75 minute journey heading east.  My seatmate, Rashid, I learned works as a bureaucrat in the Iraqi electricity department in Baghdad.  He was telling me things have indeed improved significantly.  He told me that life was slowly, but surely returning to normal and for the better.  He reminded me to be sure to eat samak al maskof (a fish dish) and drink arak, a date liquor.  I don’t know if I will get to or not.  We’ll see.

Wheat Patchwork

Wheat Patchwork

Flying over the Iraqi landscape, for the most part is desert, but just east of Baghdad in Anbar province, the airplane started descending and flew over the Euphrates river and valley, a patchwork of agricultural fields – what looked like irrigated winter wheat, date plantations, and greenhouses.  From my vantage point of several thousand feet, wheat germination appeared to be patchy.  Apparently, the date palms have also been devastated in the recent past by an insect; and with everyone being busy with the war, many trees have been killed.  On top of the war, the whole country has been experiencing a drought for the last seven or eight years.

Baghdad Airport

Baghdad Airport

The Royal Jordanian Embraer 195 jet landed as scheduled, and rolled to the terminal building – to a whole bunch of news photographers and videographers waiting for the plane.

Falah Hassan

Falah Hassan

For a second, I thought they were there to welcome us, only to discover they were there, along with the Iraqi deputy sports minister, to welcome Falah Hassan, a star footballer – the Pele of Iraq, who was returning home after a hiatus of nearly 20 years.  Apparently he lives in Detroit, and was returning home to a hero’s welcome.  He is to help Iraq’s sporting efforts.

We walked into a really crowded terminal building, full of contract workers and businessmen from around the world.

After securing visas with the help of Ali, an Iraqi national, we were welcomed by Taylor and a group of private security personnel with a private security company called Aegis.  Private security is big business in Iraq, and the personnel are all former soldiers, US, British, and others.  Aegis is a company not dissimilar to Blackwater.

Aegis SUVs

Aegis SUVs

We were escorted by the Aegis personnel to a parking area to bullet-proofed Toyota SUVs.  We had our own convoy of SUVs, each with a driver and another individual who literally rode shotgun, i.e., carried an automatic rifle, smoke bombs, etc.  The personnel are called personal security detail – PSDs.  The convoy had a lead vehicle, the Alpha vehicle; Lee Sanderson, a civilian DoD employee and our host, and I were assigned to the Bravo vehicle.  We had several more SUVs for my cohorts, with a vehicle in the back with well-armed individuals.

Individual body armor

Individual Body Armor

Each of us was given an IBA – Individual Body Armor, which must weigh about 25 pounds, and a Kevlar helmet.

Chad

Chad

My PSD, Chad, a former British soldier from Plymouth, briefed me on security procedures.  I was asked for the last four digits of my social security number and my blood type – O+.  Then he briefed me on what I was to do in case we encountered insurgents or other problems – basically, avoid looking out the window, get the hell down, and stay low!

Our ride from the airport to the guesthouse – Park Edge – took almost an hour on a road with numerous checkpoints and numerous Iraqi military vehicles with gun turrets and well-armed personnel.

Checkpoint

Checkpoint

At one checkpoint, an Iraqi soldier with a little gizmo in his hand that looked like a gun with an antenna walked by our SUV; the antenna turned towards us, almost like a divining rod.  I go, “oops”.  Chad says that those are supposed to detect bombs and bomb materials, but he thought they were an expensive rip off that the Iraqis loved, but which most of the time gave false positive signals.  Cesar, our Iraqi driver, got out of the SUV and talked to the Iraqi soldier in Arabic, and then the soldier motioned for us to go on.  I gave him a victory sign and the guy started laughing.  Kind of reminded me of keystone cops, but these guys were armed with serious weapons.

Entry into the International Zone – IZ – was through a checkpoint.

T-Walls

T-Walls

Once through the checkpoint, you could get the feeling that we were entering a sort of a garrison, with

concrete walls – they call ‘em T-Walls (from Tennessee Walls), and apparently each one costs $1,500.  Someone is making a lot of money!

Guest House

Guest House

We arrived at our guesthouse – basically a compound with high walls topped by concertina wire, and a whole bunch of black-clad, gun toting, security guards.  We were welcomed to our abode by an American – Travis.   The facility has a couple of buildings with comfortable sleeping rooms, and a very nicely appointed kitchen, living room, and dining room.

Security Guard

Security Guard

The security guards are Hondurans.  The custodial staff is Filipino.  The chef is an Indian.  The wait staff is Nepali.  A veritable United Nations.

We were welcomed by another civilian DoD staff member, Hope, a recent Harvard graduate and colleague of Lee’s.  We were briefed by Travis, Hope, and Lee – about the guesthouse, security, and what to do in case we were attacked by mortar or rockets – just stay low is the basic message.

Helicopter

Helicopter

As we were being briefed, I could hear the thumpa, thumpa, thumpa of helicopters circling, which reminded me of MASH.  I was waiting for the theme music to start up!  Of course, this is not MASH and there is no Radar or Honeycutt or Hawkeye or Hot Lips Houlihan.  This is a combat zone. This is serious.

Dr. Ahmed Araji, an Iraqi native and professor of agricultural economics at the University of Idaho, who is serving on an IPA (Interagency Personnel Act) assignment for the Task Force to help develop the agricultural infrastructure, met with us and gave us an overview of the itinerary for our visit.  Ahmed is well connected, both professionally and personally.  Over lunch – baked chicken, fish, rice pilaf, salads, vegetables, and dessert – we discussed the expected outcomes for our visit.

Iraq has seen a significant brain drain, either because of people leaving or retiring, in all areas of academic endeavor, but particularly so in agriculture.  Dr. Araji lamented that 85% of the food is imported into Iraq, which just a few years back used to feed the region.  They face low productivity, drought, lack of infrastructure for storage and transportation, etc., etc.  The country is rebuilding itself, and part of this rebuilding effort is to train the future and to help build capacity.  The Iraqis are interested in sending 10,000 students, with nearly 1,000 in the agricultural disciplines, for graduate education, particularly to institutions in the States.  Our conversation revolved around the Iraqi needs, and the capabilities land grant universities offer that could potentially help meet the same.

After a short break – many of us took powernaps, we hopped in a pair of black Chevy Suburbans, one driven by Lee and another driven by John from Manchester, England, a former British soldier with Aegis.

Sword Arch

Sword Arch

They took us around the IZ/Green Zone to show us the sights – Saddam’s highly fortified buildings hit by JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions), the Swords of Qādisīyah, also called the Hands of Victory, a pair of arches in central Baghdad, which were built to commemorate Iraq’s war with Iran, and

Iranian Helmets

Iranian Helmets

at the base of which are alleged Iranian helmets,

US Embassy, Tigris

US Embassy, Tigris

the new US Embassy under construction guarded by Peruvian security guards,

Babylon Hotel

Babylon Hotel

the Babylon Hotel (from the roof of which US Networks broadcast their coverage of the war against Saddam), various ministries and other government buildings,guarded by Ghanaian and Ugandan security guards.

Iraqi Humvee

Iraqi Humvee

The roads are eerily devoid of traffic, other than the occasional car or Humvee with Iraqi soldiers driving really fast;

Presidential Convoy

Presidential Convoy

at one point, we were passed by a convoy of fast, white SUVs, lights flashing and sirens blaring, and John said that was the Iraqi president.  Driving around in the Green Zone, one gets a claustrophobic sense because of the T-walls that make the roads feel narrow.  Then there are other areas that are completely open – with unfinished buildings from Saddam’s era.  While Baghdad has a number of green areas and there are palm trees and shrubs lining some roads, it has a dusty, brown ambience.  The buildings, behind high walls, tend to have a brown adobe façade

Our day ended with a wonderful visit with Dr. Sami Araji, Chairman of the Iraqi National Investment Commission, a Michigan State University graduate and Dr. Ahmed Araji’s cousin.  Sami is a passionate man, and wants to make a difference for the Iraqi’s, including helping develop capacity by sending bright young men and women to America to be educated, like he was well over forty-five years ago.  He is a true believer in the land grant approach, and made a passionate plea to us to help his country by offering opportunities to young Iraqis to be educated at our universities.  He truly is a breath of fresh air.  If he has his way, I am certain Iraq will do well.  The evening ended with our eating dinner with him.  The food, cooked and served by Indians, included chicken, beef, pork, various vegetables, soup, and desserts.  Sami and Ahmed are both wonderful conversationalists – we talked about (American) college football, politics, the security concerns in Iraq, the global economy, Iraq’s future, their children, etc.

Bed

A nice end to a long day.

Tomorrow we visit the University of Baghdad College of Agriculture at Abu Ghraib.  I am looking forward to it.

under: Uncategorized

Off to Iraq

Posted by: | December 4, 2009 | No Comment |

December 3, 2009

I left Corvallis around 7:00 am to get to Eugene.  The fog was unbelievable, so much so that when I got to the airport in Eugene and pulled up into the long term parking lot, I could see  no more than 15 yards in front of me.  Being that this was my first flight out of Eugene, I had no clue on what to expect and where the terminal was or if I needed a shuttle from the parking lot or if I could walk.  I was completely oblivious of where I was, since I couldn’t see any building.  Only the cars in front of me.  Needless to say, I ended up calling up Stella, and she gave me directions!

Luckily the fog cleared up by the time our flight to Seattle took off. (I did learn later that one of my colleagues from UC Davis, Jim Hill, couldn’t get out of San Francisco because of fog, and missed the flight to Amman, Jordan).    The flight out of Seattle was delayed by almost an hour owing to mechanical problems.  I figured it was going to be touch and go.  We landed at JFK just a half hour before my flight out to Amman, and luckily I was able to run to that gate, and out of breath, just barely made it – they were calling for me on the PA system as I was running. Last one on board.  My other cohorts, except for Hill, were already on board and were all glad to see me.  The flight to Amman, which lasted about 10 hours, was uneventful, and I had the whole row to myself, so I was able to sleep for several hours.

Amman airport is about a half hour from the Hyatt hotel.  Amman is a beautiful city, lot of really nice roads, fast traffic, high rises, and full of American eateries and businesses: KFC, MickeyDees, BK, Safeway, True Value, etc.  My wife and I were here last year, and felt very comfortable.

After a quick shower, Fred Cholick, an OSU grad and who worked with Kronstad, and I went to eat dinner with a former student of his from South Dakota, Omar, who is now dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Jordan.  A wonderful conversationalist.  He took us to a traditional Jordanian restaurant, Reem Al Bawadi (means “deer of the prairie” in Arabic), in a huge, old, domed building.  The food consisted of multiple dishes of flavorful hummus, multiple salads, mashed egg plant, spicy olives, along with hot off the griddle bread (both a thick bread and paper thin bread being made as you enter the restaurant), and wonderful grilled lamb and chicken. As I sit here typing this entry, I can get the flavors and aromas of the meal.  The meal ended with hot, black tea with mint leaves. Just a nice evening to top off a long day.

We leave for Baghdad first thing in the morning.

Until tomorrow night.

Ciao,

Sonny

under: Uncategorized

November 3, 2009

From Union, we headed south on Interstate-84 to our Malheur station in Ontario, which sits right on the Oregon-Idaho border.  We knew we had arrived, because of the intense aroma of onions in the air – to me an appetizing smell, and the smell of money, when the market for onions is good.  The area is home to a large number of people of Japanese heritage, and over a dinner of mafa chicken and beverages at a Japanese restaurant, we discussed all of the sights we had seen the previous few days, and what lay ahead.  Our faculty and staff at the Malheur station address issues in the area related to production of onions, potatoes, and sugar beets, along with alternative crops that appear to be promising for this area, such as soybeans, asparagus, native wildflower for seed, including those that have medicinal and anti-cancer properties, poplar, and teff (an east African cereal crop that is used to make injera, the pancake like bread in Ethiopian food).

We had a wonderful conversation with Rep. Cliff Bentz, another tremendously thoughtful supporter of education and our research and Extension efforts.  We discussed the investments needed for education and research, and the ever-decreasing state investments, which are beginning to have a significant impact on our college’s ability to be preeminent.  A “slow death by the thousand cuts” as a result of the budget cuts is hampering us. I pointed out that it is unfortunate we pit K-12 versus higher education; in this very competitive era, what we need is to focus on is K-20 education, and for the state to look at education and research as being what will keep Oregon ahead of the pack.  With representatives like Greg Smith and Cliff Bentz, I think support of our educational and research efforts is in good hands.  I only hope the constituents agree and support their efforts.  If the conversations I had with our stakeholders who serve as advisors to the station is any indication, I think Rep. Bentz’s efforts and those of our station faculty and staff are not unappreciated.

The drive east from Ontario to our experiment station at Burns brought us through vistas very different from what we had seen over the previous few days – this is rolling, range country, scrubby and sage brush covered, with the occasional Piñon juniper, which has become a significant, invasive problem in this section of the state.  Much of the land here is owned by the Federal government.  Over a lunch of thick, juicy steaks at the home of the Doverspikes, Susan and Mark, in Burns, I had a chance to discuss with some cattle ranchers the significant challenges our college faces as a result of the economic downturn and the need to transform our structure into a smaller, state-supported footprint. They appreciated my thoughts and vision for our college; their expectations are that it is critical, as we restructure ourselves, that we cannot forget our fundamental mission of teaching, research, and Extension related to food, agriculture, and natural resource systems. The experiment station at Burns lives up to meeting the mission needs, and is another example of the synergy that results from locating land grant faculty and staff along with USDA Agricultural Research Service personnel – each addressing complementary questions related to cattle, forages, nutrition, range, riparian zones, forests, and other questions of relevance to the area, in collaboration with various other Federal (BLM, NRCS) and state agencies.

MadrasMadras – pronounced Mad-Russ in Oregon, and named for the city in southern India, pronounced Mud-Rass – located in central Oregon offers yet another unique ecosystem and habitat for Oregon’s bounty of agriculture. This station is home to research on potatoes, forages and cereal, vegetable seed, grass seed, peppermint, along with other potential new crops. We ate dinner with the stakeholders, many local farmers.

SteveJames

Researcher Steve James

Yet, again, these partners discussed the importance of the work being done by the faculty and staff at the station – for example I was told that research done at the station on carrot seed contributed to a reduction of Nitrogen use by nearly 65%; similarly, research on honey bee responses to aggregation pheromone to increase pollination in carrot seed is being awaited eagerly by the growers, many of whom helped, along with others, to secure extra funding from the legislature for a honey bee faculty position.

CascadesThe return trip to Corvallis – named for “heart of the valley”, according to history books – from Burns takes one through the Cascades, with its gorgeous passes, snow covered peaks, old growth forests, and beautiful vistas. One sees also places where the forests have been clear cut or have burned in multiple fires over the years.  The switchbacks and winding roads reminded me of sections of the Himalayas, which my son-in-law, Andrew Park, and I rode on Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycles.

In my travels around the state, as I have met with our stakeholders, I have tried to articulate the significant challenges we face as a result of the economic downturn, which is requiring us to reconsider how we organize ourselves in a way that allows us to continue to deliver on our mission.  Well into the early 1980s, 100% of funding for land grant institutions such as OSU has come from state and federal sources; however, the percentage of State and Federal support has been declining, to the extent that it amounts to, for Oregon State University, less than 13% today.  This situation has required land grant universities to seek alternative sources of revenue, including ever increasing levels of tuition on students, fees for Extension programming, grants and contracts for research, licensing and royalties from intellectual property, and sale of commodities.

Thus, the new “business plan” for land grant universities is to seek ever increasing proportions of funding from sources that wax and wane based on whatever is in vogue – a business plan that is not sustainable over the long term. This new business plan is forcing our faculty to seek funds from whatever source they can get to support their programs, including in some cases their salaries, which means they will be addressing issues of interest to the funding organization, which may not necessarily jibe with that of our stakeholders.  This situation puts significant strain on our ability to deliver on the land grant mission.

Well into the current fiscal year, we do not have certainty on the budget situation – in part, because of the successful petition drive that has referred the tax increase for a vote in January.  The outcome of that vote will determine the severity of the cuts for our college, which could range from 10% to 20% or even higher.  If it is indeed the latter, it means that potentially of every $5 we will see a reduction of at least $1.  In that scenario, we are looking at a truly significant impact on a college that has been already subjected to a number of budget cuts previously.

The budget cuts, in combination with the new business plan we have to operate under, will require us to do a lot less than we have been able to do, because we will need to have a significantly smaller state-supported footprint.  I have explained the situation to our stakeholders, and said that as we go forward we will need to take a hard and careful look at our college’s organization, including our branch stations, and how we will deliver on our land grant mission.  While our stakeholders understand these truly unusual times require us to be responsive in how we serve our mission, because all issues are local; a few tend to unfortunately take a very local view, rather than a global view. I am gratified, however, that most have said they understand the need for us to be creative at addressing the budget challenges, but hope that we will be creative in meeting their local needs as well.  That is a promise I have made, i.e., we may not have the current organization, nor entities our stakeholders are used to, but we will certainly strive to protect the local interests.  In order to achieve the latter, we will need to rely more and more on our partners and stakeholders, not only for direct support of our programs, but also for their help in articulating to the legislators the local needs in research and Extension, which will make our food and agricultural systems competitive and profitable.

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November 2, 2009

ColumbiaRiver

Columbia River

Driving east along the Columbia gorge, the beauty of the gorge and the imposing evergreens are a thing of beauty.  Once past Hood River, the imposing Cascades start to flatten out into rolling hills as one enters the Dalles, with its hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River, and the landscape dotted with cherry and pear orchards, along with wind farms that disappear with the hills into the horizon.

BoardmanPoplar

Hybrid Poplar Plantation

Further east, one runs into the world’s largest hybrid poplar plantation, which uses state of the art and computerized irrigation and nutrient system through nearly 20,000 miles of irrigation tubing!  The poplars, which were planted for the paper and pulp industry, are now poised to contribute to the renewable energy needs.  Past the town of Boardman with its hybrid poplar plantation, the highway continues to run through the beautiful, rolling hills of the Columbia Basin.  This is “traditional” agricultural country – home to a huge number of wind farms along with an amazing diversity of crops, including wheat, onions, vegetables, specialty seed, potatoes, grass seed, and other species – all of which are being worked on by our faculty and staff at the experiment stations in Hermiston and Pendleton, with significant local support of stakeholders.  The Pendleton station benefits significantly from the presence of an excellent group of USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists who undertake complementary research on soil, carbon and nutrient cycling, and other questions.

Hermiston Cages

Hermiston Cages

What is really cool is that although it is in the eastern part of the state, the station at Hermiston has faculty working on the impact of row crop agricultural practices on salmon.  This latter effort is thanks to the innovative and prescient partnership created by stakeholders such as Bryan Wolfe and others in the Hermiston area along with those that support our experiment station in Newport on the Oregon coast.  South of Interstate-84 in Wasco and Sherman County is the arid, high plains wheat country in the Columbia Basin, uncannily similar to the Kansas countryside where I lived for a few years, including the presence of wind farms with their eerily blinking red lights as we drove through on a beautiful evening lit by a full, China moon!  Rainfall in this part of Oregon ranges from five to 15 inches, and I am told going just a few miles in each direction might mean one less inch of rainfall.  Our partners in Moro support our research efforts with a significant endowment, which is beautifully depicted in a huge mural on the side of the station building.

My wife, Gita, and I participated in the renowned Pendleton Roundup (http://pendletonroundup.com/), which occurs over a few days in September.  Arriving into Pendleton, we saw the town was full of trailers carrying all manner of animals for the rodeo, along with people in their Western gear, huge belt buckles and all.

PendletonParade

Speckles and me

I broke down and bought a “Western” belt to go with my orange and black plaid shirt and blue jeans! The OSU dinner at the Hanley was an opportunity for us to meet and greet the large number of our alumni and friends, along with a number of local, state, and federal elected officials. Gita and I had the privilege of meeting OSU basketball Coach Craig Robinson, brother of Michelle Obama, who as the after dinner speaker regaled us with stories of the winning 2008-2009 season. Of course there were the mandatory questions and quips about being the First Brother-in-Law.  The next morning after breakfast, we did a radio show and got ready for the parade.  Riding a horse in the parade was awesome.  I have ridden horses before, but I was apprehensive that my horse might somehow read the motto of the Pendleton Roundup – “Let ‘er Buck” – and start bucking.  Luckily, my horse, Speckles, was a quiet, well behaved, 20-plus year old, and belonged to Kyle, a young son of one of my Extension colleagues, Matt Liscom. The nice thing was Matt stayed with me.  With bravado I was saying to everyone – “well, I ride a Harley-Davidson, and riding a horse is no different” – but deep inside my heart I hoped the horse wouldn’t take off or start bucking!

PendletonRoundupThe loud boom of a canon, which startled all of the horses, but luckily no mishaps, was the signal that the parade had started.  As the group of 4-H riders, OSU President Ed Ray, Extension Director and Vice Provost Scott Reed, and the rest of us on horses, along with the President’s wife, Beth, and Gita riding in a wagon, went along the downtown streets, it was cool to see people yell and acknowledge OSU and the Beavers! Go Beavs – yelled the people lined up and we responded similarly.  The day included attending the rodeo with Virginia Tubbs, the Grand Matriarch of Pendleton, and being her guests at a dinner.  The rodeo itself was pretty awesome – bucking horse and bull riding, roping calves and steers, bareback horse racing by the Native Americans, wild cow milking, and other events.  The Pendleton Roundup lived up to its reputation as a fun event depicting the frontier life of the past.

East of Columbia Basin, one drives through the gorgeous, glaciated Blue Mountains, with its own, very unique alpine trees such as Ponderosa pine, Piñon juniper, Lodgepole pine, Western larch, and others, but not as imposing as the really huge, old growth Douglas fir in the cascades or coastal range mountains – may be in part due to the significantly lower rainfall this section of the state receives, along with fires.  We drive across rivers with names like Snake, John Day, Grande Ronde, Powder, and Malheur.  Our college offers an Agricultural Program at Eastern Oregon University in LaGrande, with a growing number of students in majors of huge relevance to the eastern part of the state – Range Ecology and Management, Agribusiness Management, Crop & Soil Science, Environmental and Economic Policy and Management, and Natural Resources, along with a number of relevant minors.  Speaking to the smart and thoughtful students, I discovered the program is hugely attractive and successful, and includes internship opportunities as part of the educational program, and that the graduates are placed very well.  What was highly gratifying was to discover amongst the students I met, the second generation of students coming into the program, following their parents, and younger siblings following older ones.  The program is also attracting students from neighboring states and overseas; and I met a student from Nepal.

While the OSU Ag Program at EOU is immensely successful and popular, we are losing money.  We are engaged in conversations with the administration of EOU to ensure that the costs of the program are met equitably.  These conversations are critical in light of the significant budget challenges we face.  While at the campus of EOU, I had occasion to inaugurate my colleague, Lynn Ketchum’s, touring exhibit of photographs about food and agriculture from our magazine, Oregon’s Agriculture Progress – Savory Images –  (http://extension.oregonstate.edu/eesc/savoryimages/), and got to meet Rep. Greg Smith, an excellent and thoughtful supporter of education and agriculture.  Greg’s support, along with that of others, to provide for a tax increase have mitigated the significant impact of the budget cuts on our research and Extension efforts.  Unfortunately, this tax increase might be in jeopardy, come January 26.  I hope the local constituents see this sort of support as being important for our state’s well being, and more immediately for the well being of our educational, research and Extension programs that have significant local impact in eastern Oregon.

Red Barn at EOARC, Union

Red Barn at EOARC, Union

A number of the students in our Agriculture Program at EOU seek experiential opportunities at our experiment station in Union, which was established over 100 years ago and focuses on range, forestry, flora and fauna of wildlands, forages, beef cattle, nutrition, and other issues of relevance to eastern Oregon.  The breadth of research is amazing – everything from beef nutrition to sage brush to range/forest interactions to the birds of the region to wolf predation on cattle to impact of fire to impact of cattle grazing on mountain streams to grazed riparian pastures to the floristics and faunistics of the Great Basin desert, to name just a few.  All of these efforts are having significant impact locally.  Our partners in the Union area, like those at the other locations, are highly supportive of the local efforts, and I hope they will continue to support our efforts at reorganizing our college.

I have noticed an interesting conundrum as I meet and speak with our partners and stakeholders.  While everyone is highly supportive of our efforts, many are also against the tax increase that was passed during the last legislative session. I have stated to the that the tax increase being voted down will seriously and immediately impact our college, but that the long term impact on our educational and research efforts are going to be significantly impaired.  I hope that the voters and our partners and stakeholders think of the potentially devastating impact on our state.

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November 1, 2009

Note: Over the last three months since my arrival in Corvallis, I have visited our academic departments and traveled to every one of branch experiment stations around Oregon, some of which I have described in earlier postings.  The actual trips described below occurred over a few separate occasions in different directions, but in these three consecutive posts I have tried to stitch the trips together for the purpose of continuity!

“Go West, young man, and grow up with the country,” said Horace Greeley.  In Oregon, one really has to go east to see the West!

Bennie

Benny Beaver

Since my arrival at Oregon State University almost three months ago, I have traveled – thanks to my colleagues, Stella, Larry, Betsy, and Todd – several thousand miles within Oregon, learning about our college’s huge presence throughout the state and its food and agricultural enterprise, and along the way met students, alumni, stakeholders, friends, and state and federal legislators.  I have partaken the bounty of our state – from the amazing array of fruit, vegetables, and nuts such as cherries and pears, Marion berries, Purple Pelisse potatoes, and hazelnuts to wines such as pinots, cabs, and syrahs to grain and meat to oyster shooters, mussels, salmon, Albacore tuna to artisan cheeses, and beef steaks to lamb to name just a few. Oregon produces well over two hundred different commodities, many organized under commodity commissions or grower associations.

Grapes

Grapes on the vine

The valleys west of the Cascades, Willamette, Rogue, and Umqua – each with its very own, unique microclimate, varying in the native fauna and flora, home to a bewildering array of agricultural enterprises such as vineyards and wineries, specialty seed, grass seed, fruit orchards, berries, hop trellises, nurseries, artisanal cheeses, beers, and on and on.  It is the unique soils and microclimates, along with elevational differences that make the valleys so productive, and allow all the different kinds of food and agricultural systems to thrive, including organic, sustainable, conventional, etc.  Some of the research efforts are undertaken at our academic departments in Corvallis, and at our branch experiment stations in Aurora and Medford.

Of course, not everything is perfect in the paradise one sees driving down Interstate-5.  The economic downturn has affected many of the agricultural enterprises, and controversies abound: profitability; the grass seed business and nursery business are off almost 50%, imposing significant and immediate stresses on the producers and their families and employees, and more broadly on the state’s economy; environmental concerns, organic versus sustainable versus conventional; GMOs, canola, burning, pesticides, environmental impacts, etc.  Our faculty play a significant role in providing scientific clarity to complex issues, and help focus on outcomes that are in the best interest of the agricultural enterprises themselves and ultimately on society.

East of the Cascades is, as the locals say, God’s Country – rolling hills, high plains desert, huge basins.  It is beautiful country.  Dry to very dry.  Wheat country.  Range country.  Cattle country.  Here, again, controversies abound – mostly about water, federal land, grazing rights. Farmers and ranchers alike face significant challenges, not unlike what is seen in the valleys west of the Cascades. Faculty at our stations play a significant role in providing scientific clarity to complex issues, and undertake the research and Extension efforts needed to help producers, communities, and residents.

Downtown Portland is home to the only urban experiment station in the United States – the Food Innovation Center, which is a partnership between our college and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.  This one-of-a-kind station works very closely with the food processing industry on such areas as market access and development, economics and marketing, consumer sensory testing, packaging and shelf life, processing and packaging, product development, and the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in the food industry. The FIC has state-of-the-art facilities, including a kitchen that the food industry can use to develop and test products with the help of our faculty and staff. A number of products in the market place, such as beverages, chips, and other products, are the result of the unique partnership between our faculty and staff and the food industry.

ChefJenkins

Chef Eric Jenkins

Astoria, on the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Ocean, is the home to our Seafood Lab and Seafood Consumer Center, which are dedicated to discovering new value added uses of marine organisms, such as surimi from whiting fish, oyster shooters, albacore tuna, to name a few; and researchers are determining how to deal with food safety in seafood, population genetics and origin of salmon. Chef Eric Jenkins who dishes up gourmet dishes and lessons at the seafood school created a wonderful dinner of honey mustard marinated salmon, rice pilaf, and salad, preceded by appetizers that included smoked albacore tuna, mussels, oysters, and barbecued squid.

Tillamook

Tillamook Cheese Factory

Driving south from Astoria enroute to Newport is Tillamook – home of the famous dairies and cheese.  We stopped for Tillamook ice cream and grilled cheese sandwiches.  The drive along the coast is wonderful – the Oregon coast is like no other that I have seen in my travels.  The little towns along the way are picturesque – these are places I need to come back to with my wife.

Oyster Seed

Oyster Seed

Further south is Newport – home to our Coastal Marine Experiment Station, the Marine Mammal Institute, and the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Here our faculty undertake research and Extension efforts on various aspects of the biology of various marine species such as whales, salmon, oysters, and others, along with marketing and economic analyses of the seafood industry.

FishHospital

Fish hospital

Newport is also home to an “ornamental fish hospital”.  The economic downturn has had a significant impact in this section of the state, and the fishermen are concerned as well about policies and regulations that place significant burden on their livelihoods.  I had a chance to listen to people like Sen. Betsy Johnson and Rep. Jean Cowan, who are both huge supporters of our college and efforts in Astoria and Newport; at dinner with other stakeholders, which included one on a boat – The Marine Discovery Tours boat operated by Fran and Don Mathews – I heard support for our efforts and concerns about the impact of the budget cuts on our presence.  These are passionate people and truly committed to our college’s efforts.

The return to Corvallis was through the Coastal Range in the dark, in rain.  The little I could see out of the window of the car suggested some mountains with beautiful, old growth Douglas firs or the scar of clear cut or fires.  It’s a trip I will need to do on my motorcycle during the daytime in late spring or summer.

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September 27, 2009

Fall!  This is my favorite time of the year – warm days and cool nights that allow the sap of trees to store more sugars and fruit such as grapes to become sweeter; a time when the shadows become longer and the leaves on the hardwood trees are starting to change color indicative of their inevitable senescence; harvest of agricultural commodities is in full swing; and, of course, our campus is full of young people – the lifeblood of our college.

I arrived on campus in late July – Summer – a time when I would run into the occasional graduate student, busy with their dissertation or thesis research, and the occasional undergraduate student engaged in experiential research or holding down a job on campus to earn a living and save money for tuition.  With the arrival of Fall, the campus is bustling with young people.  There are numerous orientation programs for the students, and many are “rushing” for their fraternities and sororities.  Students are meeting with advisors and checking on courses.  Freshmen and transfer students are learning about our college and making new friends; while the senior classmen are renewing old friendships or making new ones.

There are orientations as well for new faculty and staff.  Departments and colleges are holding “retreats” where faculty and staff are undertaking an in depth conversation on the accomplishments of the past year, and the challenges and teaching, research, and Extension needs for the upcoming year.  I have met a number of our new faculty – our seed corn, as they are the future of our college – and the skills they bring in research or teaching or Extension are awesome.

Artist:  Jay Noller

Artist: Jay Noller

Many of them have amazing avocational interests in music, art, painting, sculpting, hiking, cooking, gardening, mountain climbing, etc.  One new faculty member I met plays in a band; another plays medieval music on a lap harp.

Looking for answers

Looking for answers

Whether it is faculty in Food Science and Technology who are undertaking research and extending knowledge on adding value to the agricultural commodities by converting to new food products or beverages or better ways of preserving them, or faculty in Environmental and Molecular Toxicology who work on coming up with ways to protect our environment or our health, or faculty in Fisheries and Wildlife discovering new ways of conserving our natural resources – they all exhibit an intensity of commitment to changing the future of our agricultural, food, and natural resources enterprise, making a difference. Right here, right now.

During University Day, President Ed Ray presented awards of excellence to OSU faculty and staff – several in our college were recognized for excellence in advising, research, Extension, or service, including David Williams, Carol Mallory-Smith, Melody Putnam, and Lynda Ciufetti. These faculty, like the many other faculty and staff who have been recognized by their peers at other venues, are changing the future.  Right here, right now.

Gelato Social for Students

Gelato Social for Students

The college hosted a gelato social to welcome students back for the Fall term.  I had the pleasure of meeting a number of them – freshmen and upper classmen – majoring in everything from Agricultural Business Management to Range Ecology and Management.  I learned of the many student clubs we have – Alpha Zeta to the Young Cattlemen’s Association.  It was great talking to these young men and women.  Many of them have had wonderful experiences in the summer – working on farms, with fish and wildlife, in wineries, on golf courses, and in other endeavors relevant to their education.

Fall enrollment in our college in general has increased significantly, particularly in Animal Science and in the Pre-Veterinary Option.  As I have traveled around the state, some of our stakeholders have expressed concern that we are not protecting the interests of traditional agriculture.  I have explained to them that while we are indeed seeing significant increases in other majors and options, we continue to recruit and educate students in the traditional agricultural disciplines as well.  In my mind, there is no conflict in catering to the increasingly diverse student body interested in attending our college, while protecting the traditional agricultural interests.  As a matter of fact, a number of students who come into our Animal Science department to study Pre-Vet are exposed to issues related to livestock animals and agriculture as well.  These Pre-Vet students would likely never get exposed to traditional agriculture were they not to come to our college.  I see this as a win-win situation, because we are seeing increased enrollments, which has an impact on state funding which is based on student numbers, and the students from non-traditional backgrounds are getting exposed to agriculture, increasing their appreciation of agriculture and, thus, more likely to understand and support humanity’s need for agriculture, i.e., to grow our crops and livestock, to feed the burgeoning population.

Welcome to a new academic year

Welcome to a new academic year

In welcoming the students at the gelato social I promised them that our college was about educating them and to equip them with the knowledge and tools to change the future.  Right here, right now.

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Commitment

Posted by: | September 8, 2009 | No Comment |

September 6, 2009

Look up the word “commitment” in the Webster’s Dictionary and you might see the following:
Main Entry: com·mit·ment
Pronunciation: \kə-ˈmit-mənt\
Function: noun
The act of committing, pledging, or engaging oneself; A pledge or promise; Obligation; Engagement; Involvement.

The word “commitment” and all of its various synonyms kept ringing in my head – as I was sharing a meal with our alumni, friends, and stakeholders or having conversations with faculty and staff during department and branch station visits or touring our myriad farms in and around Corvallis or branch stations or visiting the State Fair in Salem.

Commitment is evident in the efforts of faculty who work with undergraduate and graduate students. For example, over the last several weeks, Sujaya Rao, along with several colleagues, hosted approximately a dozen undergraduate students from OSU and from other institutions around the nation on a National Science Foundation grant for Research Experiences for Undergraduates. REUPresentationThese bright young women and men were involved in studies at various locations in the state on trying to understand the importance of native bees as pollinators. Similarly, Desiree Tullos engages undergraduate students in her efforts in the area of aquatic ecosystems, ecohydraulics, river morphology and restoration, and bioassessment, helping them develop the skills needed in managing our water resources. These smart, young people epitomize to me the reason why we are a land grant college – i.e., offering access to young people and enabling their success. Listening to the REU student presentations, I am convinced that indeed we are enabling young people to be successful and to be contributing members of society.

Commitment is evident in the research and educational efforts of our faculty and staff in Biological and Ecological Engineering and in Animal Sciences, in such endeavors as to protect our water resources, to obtain bioenergy and biomaterials from plants, or to convert municipal sewage into Hydrogen and “blue” water – imagine that: obtaining water, while also meeting the future energy needs, from sewage; or in endeavors to manage animal wastes or controlling mastitis pathogens, determining the dietary effects of modulating poultry health or poultry reproduction. Greenwall

As I learned this past week, commitment is evident in the efforts as well of faculty and staff in Horticulture or Agricultural and Resource Economics – working to help develop beautiful and sustainable urban landscapes, including “green roofs and green walls”, teaching students to develop skills in these new approaches, in developing better and more healthy vegetables such as purple tomatoes and fruit and more efficient ways of producing horticultural crops, or helping communities manage rural and urban issues, climate change, land and water use, marine fisheries, market structure, the relationships between yields, production and prices of commodities, and other issues with science-based and more effective public policies. Similarly, by their discovery and educational efforts our research and Extension faculty and staff at our Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center and Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center engage local communities and address their unique issues, enabling them to succeed and thrive.

UrbanHortCommitment is evident in Oregon’s producers of crops, livestock, fruit, vegetables, grass, and seed, and other value added products such as wines or blue cheese, using conventional or sustainable or organic approaches. Every one of the producers I have met – in the various valleys that constitute Oregon west of the Cascades such as the Willamette or Rogue or Umpqua, in the Klamath Basin, in the Columbia River Gorge area – is committed to ensuring a safe and secure food supply to the burgeoning population and to mitigate hunger and poverty, while protecting the environmental and economic stability of their communities. There might be different approaches or different philosophies of producing our food. Rather than engage in arguments that one production method or approach is better, my approach is that we focus on outcomes and utilize every tool – organic, conventional, sustainable, or any other approach – in our research and education toolkit to help our producers address the arduous need and responsibility to feed the nine billion humans in just another thirty to forty years. As a land grant college it is our commitment and pledge to help discover ways of growing crops and livestock in an environmentally benign and economically viable manner. I have said to many – we need to help our producers not just survive, but actually thrive in their efforts to feed people in their backyards or miles away on other continents.

OSUStadiumCommitment is evident in the alumni and friends I met during the football game against Portland State University – a game we won 34-7. These are individuals who are proud of their heritage of having graduated from our college. These are individuals who have a connection to agriculture because they grow the crops and livestock or process them into value-added commodities. These are individuals who strive for excellence in their daily lives and careers, and who are about enabling the same – of their alma mater, of the current students, and of their communities – by contributing money and time to scholarships, to fellowships, to professorships, to buildings, and to infrastructure. Without such altruism and support, our college would not be able to strive for excellence.

StateFairCommitment was evident as well at the State Fair in Salem in the person of Tyson Snider, a young man from Klamath Falls. Tyson is taking the year off to serve as a state officer with the FFA, and next year will be attending our college to get a degree in Agribusiness and as an ROTC cadet. I was impressed with his maturity and commitment to the FFA and to his own career – he runs a small swine operation, wants to be in the Air Force and keep his hands in agribusiness and, therefore, his interest in the Agribusiness degree, which he believes he will need when he retires from the Air Force at age 39 0r 40! Now that is commitment. In turn, we promise him an outstanding education that will enable him to achieve his dream.

That’s what our college is about – our commitment to enable young people like Tyson and the farmers and ranchers and the food processors and the mothers and fathers and citizens to achieve their dreams.

The spouse of one of our alumni said it best after dinner, and which speaks for all – “we’ve got your back”! With commitment like that we are guaranteed to succeed and move forward.

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August 23, 2009

To say that it feels like I am drinking out of the proverbial fire hose is an understatement!  I was telling my daughter, Megha, a few days ago that being a dean is the easy part; learning the players and who does what and why and to whom, and the local culture and values is the difficult part.

Whether it’s faculty and staff or various stakeholders, the questions and concerns are the same, albeit from their unique perspectives.

The topic of conversation amongst personnel in our college is the issue of how we are going to deal with the budget – from the immediacy of the 15% cuts for the current biennium, which we call a transitional step, to the approximately 20% smaller state-supported footprint we are looking at for the future, which we call the transformational step.

In contrast, what I hear from our stakeholders and the approaches they wish for me to pursue, depends on the interests or commodities they represent.  Interestingly, cognizant of the breathtaking budgetary challenges we face – some take a more nuanced view.

I spent a few hours with Russ Karow and the Crop and Soil Science department this past week – I was very impressed with the breadth of the department’s mission and the quality of the programs, both in the soils area and in the crops area.  To put it mildly, this department is as diverse in their scientific and disciplinary efforts as in their commodity interests.  Added to this diversity is the faculty, staff, and students are located in multiple buildings, and the quality of the facilities varies every bit as much.  Their questions and comments demonstrated their intense desire to protect the interests of the stakeholders, including the students, their parents, and the diverse scientific and commodity communities they support – which truly was gratifying to me.

Mid-week, I had the privilege of interacting with members of the Wine Board and the Oregon Wine Research Institute Policy Board.  The conversations revolved around the raison d’etre of the Wine Research Institute and a director for the same. We now have a consensus to move forward on this; as I said to them, my dream is to make this institute the best there is – bar none, which would require a strong partnership and stepping up on the part of our college and the industry.  I was pleasantly gratified that there was congruence in our vision.  The industry was concerned that in having to deal with the significant budget challenges, their interests might be compromised, particularly in applied research and Extension for viticulture.  As I said to the groups – the land grant mission is part of our DNA, and that we would be good stewards of the responsibility vested in us; any decisions we make regarding budget issues would ensure that it does not compromise delivering on our mission.  This is something to remind ourselves about constantly – we are, at the end of the day, a land grant college.

The latter part of the week was time spent off-campus – I rode up with Stella, Jack, and Betsy on Thursday to our Mid-Columbia Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Hood River.   MultnomahFalls

Along the way we stopped at Multnomah Falls – at 620 feet, the tallest water falls in Oregon.  I learned the water comes mostly from springs, along with snowmelt, and that Multnomah means down river.

During the afternoon, Peter Shearer, superintendent of MCAREC, gave me a tour of the station – you can’t beat the location (self-proclaimed surfing capital of the world on the Columbia Gorge!) and the views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams.  I was very impressed with the ongoing innovations in breeding and genetics, entomology, plant pathology, post-harvest issues, packing, plant nutrition, etc., all of which have had a significant impact on promoting local production of various species of tree fruit.  These efforts have been undertaken with the outstanding support of the local growers.  COS

One innovation that stands out is the “Competitive Orchard Systems” method of training pears to grow on a trellis system.  As we were peering at the rows of the perfectly manicured trellises, I couldn’t but notice the backdrop – Mt. Adams!

I met with the MCAREC advisory group – an amazingly committed group of local producers, fruit packers, and others.  They are contributing directly to a significant portion of the salaries of our faculty at the station.  Their conversation reflected the local concerns, but particularly related to wanting to know what my vision was and how I would deal with the budget challenges, in light of vacancies in faculty positions, the filling of which is very important to their needs.  Again, I pointed out the severity of the challenges we face, and that we would develop a nuanced way to meet their needs.  As we were discussing the various options available, I was very pleasantly gratified of their recognition of the constraints I face, and their offering me suggestions such as sharing positions with other stations or with other universities or having someone from Corvallis addressing their needs as well.  This is a breath of fresh air, and demonstrates the altruistic nature of their approach to dealing with issues. I can tell you that this conversation was very different from some of the comments I have heard in other contexts or in my conversations with stakeholders in other states.

The events at MCAREC included a ribbon cutting ceremony for renovations, additions, and creation of an ADA ramp at the station.  I had the privilege of meeting Rep. Suzanne VanOrman who was instrumental in the station receiving funding from the Go Oregon! Stimulus program.  I discovered that she had worked on John Kennedy’s campaign.  In her comments prior to the ribbon cutting, she pointed out that while Oregon’s funding for higher education puts the state in 49th position for such support, the competitiveness of the universities, including OSU, ranks the state 5th in success with extramural grants.

Hood River 1A particularly poignant part of the ceremony was to learn about Don Poole, a local grower, who had lost both limbs in an accident on his farm last spring, and who cut the ribbon.

Adding to the poignancy was the story of Japanese immigrants who were instrumental in establishing fruit production and agriculture in this section of Oregon in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Sadly, all of the Japanese-Americans from the area – nearly 500 men, women and children – were rounded up by the US Government in 1942 after Pearl Harbor, and interned, a shameful period of the history here.  Only in 1993, Pres. Bill Clinton offered an official apology to the Japanese-Americans for this shameful act by the US Government.  JapaneseHeritage

A couple of years ago, the local master gardeners along with our Extension and experiment station staff wanted to honor the Japanese-American heritage of the area, and they created a Japanese Heritage Garden – a tranquil spot on the station.

Todd Bastian and I left for The Dalles in Wasco County, a community on the Columbia River, with a hydroelectric dam and an aluminum processing plant – apparently it’s a blue-collar community.  It is surrounded by beautiful, hilly terrain with few trees, characteristic of Hood River, and is the gateway to eastern Oregon.

Todd drove, and I served as the navigator.  Apparently, I did a lousy job of navigating, and we got lost.  Luckily, I had my iPhone, which has a pretty cool Maps App, in which all one has to do is to punch in an address, and it uses the iPhone’s GPS system to find itself and the route.  Needless to say, it was pretty interesting to navigate using the iPhone to go over rutted dirt trails on the hilly terrain of the orchards, which surprisingly show up in the route created by the App, and we made it to the house, unscathed.  Todd was getting a bit antsy that we were lost and were going to be seriously late.  Thank heavens for the little iPhone – we made it to the Baileys, just a few minutes after the appointed hour!

We joined Bob Bailey, who hosted a dinner for me, and had invited a number of his friends and relatives, mostly OSU graduates.  Bob and his brothers co-own the Orchard View Farms; and he co-owns Dry Hollow Winery with his daughter and son-in-law.  It was a wonderful evening at the home of Barb (who couldn’t be there) and Bob – in the midst of their scenic cherry orchards and vineyards.  The conversation, over wonderful wines, including merlot, syrah, and a cabernet from their winery, and a dinner of salad and lasagna, ranged from agriculture to fruit production to wines and vineyards to the increasing problems of meth production and use in the area to the College of Agricultural Sciences and the budget challenges to Oregon history.  Again, I was so gratified to hear their interest in the well being of our college, in particular, and agriculture, in general.  They trust that I will be a good steward of both.

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