CDFA secretary discusses the future of California ag

Mar 21, 2011

The newly appointed California secretary of agriculture, Karen Ross, outlined her department's California Ag Vision 2030 during a presentation at Fresno State University Sunday. The Business Journal announced the event, but apparently no media outlets attended.

The event was part of Fresno State's 100 year anniversary celebration, which culminates with a Centennial Gala on May 14.

Two years in the making, the CDFA Ag Vision 2030 defines 12 strategies for California's agriculture and food sector. Ross said the Ag Vision is a collaborative effort that involved a diverse group of stakeholders who focused on what they could agree on, rather than fighting about what they can't.

"When you read this, you have to be optimistic about California agriculture," she said.

Ross took the helm at CDFA just as the department faces a $15 million reduction in general fund support this year, a $32 million cut for its fair system and another $15 million funding cut for next year.

Even in the face of these budget cuts, Ross said she is determined CDFA will continue to engage in new and positive programs. That challenge, Ross said, will take ingenuity. She invoked a famous admonition from Winston Churchill, which is also quoted in the Ag Vision 2030: "Gentlemen [and ladies], we have run out of money. Now we have to think."

During the Q&A session, CSUF soil scientist Sharon Benes expressed concern about UC Cooperative Extension, saying UCCE programs have "taken more than their share of the (budget) hit." She said UCCE has played a critical role in creating California's thriving agricultural industry and budget cuts are reducing intellectual capacity.

In responding, Ross said she is working with executives at UC and CSU to see where to fill in the gaps.

"We need to rethink regional deployment," Ross said. "We can't give up the specialists. But maybe you extend information in different ways. I always say, 'Extension is a verb, not a person.' Status quo is not an option anymore."

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By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist