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.

August 10, 2009

It has now been a week since I arrived in Corvallis, and I am settling in to my new role as dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. It has been my privilege already to meet many people on and off campus. Each person I have met has generously sought to help me make sense of what the College and the University are all about. There is also an intense interest among our faculty, staff, students, and external stakeholders in the welfare of the College and its future. To a person, they wish only the best for our College and for our State.

Whether from conversations or electronic mail messages, it has become clear that almost everyone is interested in–and concerned about–the next steps in relation to how we will deal with the significant budget constraints we face.  Reductions in the State’s appropriations for the Statewide Public Service Programs (Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, OSU Extension, and OSU Forest Research Laboratory) may be as high as 20 percent or more. This is of great significance because the Experiment Station and the Extension Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources programs constitute a predominant portion of our College’s budget.

Beyond our directing unit leaders to propose budget reductions in their units for this fiscal year, no decisions have been made about program or staff reductions or about a longer-range transformation of the College. Such important decisions cannot be made in a hurry, or without a deliberate and purposeful approach that involves and seeks counsel from internal and external stakeholders. Unit leaders and College administration initiated conversations earlier this year and I expect to expand them. Underpinning such conversations is the reality that our College will have a State-supported “footprint” that is significantly smaller than in the past.

As stewards of the taxpayers’ investment and trust, we will be mindful of how we approach and deal with the budget situation, while ensuring that we deliver on our research, Extension, and teaching missions.

As we move forward, there will be opportunities for faculty, staff, students, and stakeholders to share their best thinking. That is a promise.


Sonny Ramaswamy
Dean and Reub Long Professor
College of Agricultural Sciences
Oregon State University

August 7, 2009

Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending the evening with Karla and Bill Chambers, owners/operators of the Stahlbush Island Farms (, and their children.

To me they epitomize the modern farm family running a large family-owned
business, committed to Quality, Sustainability, Innovation, and People, as
it says in their Mission and Vision statement on their website.

The conversation on their back deck, which ranged from alternative energy to
sustainability to education to research and Extension to Canadian geese as
pests to taxes, and the wonderful wine -Elizabeth’s Reserve from Bill’s
mother’s winery – were equally refreshing and enjoyable.

Stahlbush Island Farms Processing PlantBill offered to take me on a tour of their processing plant, which I gladly
accepted. The innovations they have incorporated in not only the production
of various vegetable crops using sustainable approaches, but also in the
processing and the use of the plant waste to generate Methane in a
biogas digester to produce electricity, is very impressive.

Biogas digesterThe best part
is that they are able to follow sustainable practices in their production
and processing, while mitigating their ecological footprint and saving
money. In the classic definition of Extension, these are the Innovators and
Early Adopters.

Following the tour, we ate brats and potato salad. The conversation, which included their children, turned to our college, including the teaching, research, and Extension efforts.

At one point, Karla made the observation that Extension was not really
needed. I was surprised by that statement, but we engaged in a spirited
discussion of today’s Extension.

I truly believe that Extension is even more relevant today because of the
incredible need we have to feed an ever burgeoning population, and to make
sure that the food is safe and secure. Additionally, whether it’s
production systems or meeting the food, feed, fuel, and fiber needs, it
is becoming ever more complicated and technically more demanding, requiring
a more sophisticated and transformative Extension effort that relies on
reaching the end users via different touch points and modes of

But when I went home and thought about Karla’s statement, it gave me pause.
Here’s a person who really is the proverbial ‘choir’ and she questioned the
relevance of Extension. I think our work is cut out, and will require
serious thought. We truly have to become more relevant and bring value.



August 1, 2009

I arrived in Corvallis last Thursday – it was hot, but luckily not humid, and so bearable.

On Saturday, my first exposure to Oregon Agriculture was the Benton County Fair – this was the last evening of the Fair.  This is quintessential Norman Rockwell Americana.

The aroma of the livestock stalls, kids eating warm elephant ears, popcorn, and sweaty people.  I could breathe it all in.  It was nice to speak to some of the kids – Ashley and Vicky with their Angus steers.  I suggested they might consider going to college at OSU.

Benton County Fair

I had a chance to take in the livestock auction.  The staccato voice of the auctioneer was totally mesmerizing. And, the young men/boys strutting around in their jeans with huge belt buckles and shirts with the club logos emblazoned on the breast pocket, showing their hogs.  The hogs averaged about $3.25 – all being purchased for a good cause.  A couple of the young women I discovered will be at OSU for the Fall term. The camaraderie was just so wonderful to see.

Then I walked over to see the rabbits, cavies, poultry, etc.  What was very interesting was the mix of people – including many Hispanics.  I asked one of the Hispanic families what they thought and if they wanted their six-year-old to participate in 4-H – they just smiled and kept going.  I think there is a tremendous opportunity to engage Hispanics in 4-H and other activities.

I ended the evening listening to Johnny Limbo and The Lugnuts – wow , wonderful 60s and 70s music!

A nice introduction to Oregon, indeed.


Sonny Ramaswamy
Dean and Reub Long Professor
College of Agricultural Sciences
Oregon State University