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