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New UC president pledges support for agriculture

Ice hockey is not the only thing Canadians cannot live without if Canuck Robert Dynes insatiable appetite for one of California’s newest crops is any indication.

Canadians also like their blueberries, but it was California blueberries that had Dynes grabbing for more on a recent visit to the University of California Kearney Research and Extension Center at Parlier, Calif.

Dynes is the president of the University of California and rather than go through a formal inauguration, the Ontario, Canada native decided to take an inaugural tour, traveling vast California to learn how the UC system can better serve its clientele.

Parlier was one of his agricultural stops where he saw, among other things, the work Tulare County UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Manuel Jimenez and others are doing to introduce new crops to the state’s small farmers. Blueberries have become one of Jimenez’s biggest successes, so much so that blueberries have become big business for some big producers.

Agriculture is not physicist Dynes element. He came from the semi-conductor/super conductor industry to be chancellor of UC San Diego in 1991 and six months ago head of the UC System with more than 200,000 students; 160,000 employees; 35,000 retirees and 1.2 million living alumni.

Nevertheless, he knows blueberries and the ones he tasted from Jimenez’s Parlier trials he proclaimed are much sweeter than those he ate in Canada.

Just like those California blueberries, Dynes’ comments to an audience of valley agriculture and business leaders before he toured the station left a pleasant taste as well.

Hailed as a good listener who can bring people together, Dynes said his tour of the state has convinced him another "D" needs to be added to one of the university’s primary roles of research and development.

That D is "delivery" whether it be health care, high tech or agriculture.

"I hear people say I only do research. That is out of date," said Dynes. "I see enormously successful researchers become so impassioned about the impact of what they research that they drive it to delivery.

"Once they are satisfied" that the technology has been delivered, they go back to research. That is the model Dynes wants for all UC faculty.

Dynes also pledged to support the basic mission of UC as a land grant university. That mission began 100 years ago when a UC Berkeley professor learned out to mitigate the alkalinity and salinity of central valley soils to make them fertile.

It has continued since, he said, citing huge advances in the state’s dairy production, citrus and strawberries due to UC research and delivery efforts as just three examples.

"Blueberries in California? Five years ago people said not a chance," he noted. Today blueberries are one of the most rapidly expanding crops in the state and it is because UC scientists like Jimenez "keep thinking beyond the traditional."

Air quality issues are having a huge impact on the state’s agriculture, and UC researchers are seeking answers. One thing discovered so far is that soot from burning fossil fuels in China and India can reach the California coast in just five days.

Particulates from other parts of the world are affecting valley air, said Dynes. Researchers are determined to find how much just as they are in finding how much valley air quality is impacted by Los Angeles and San Francisco. "It is not just trucks on 99," he noted.

Dynes acknowledged that these are "tough times" economically for UC as the state struggles with indebtedness. He called UC funding not expenditures, but "investment in the future of California...the most innovative, diverse and risk taking society in the world."

No one knows more about tough times that UC Cooperative Extension which has seen budget cuts of 25 percent or more so far.

Unfortunately, Dynes said, the "outrageous success" like that achieved by UCCE "breeds a mentality of entitlement." Most people in the state believe supermarkets generate food.

"They think food appears from heaven," he said.

The challenge will be to convince legislators and others that the success of California agriculture cannot be taken for granted.

"We need to awaken people to the possibility that we can lose this. There is no guarantee that we can remain the most efficient producer of food in the world," he said. It will not happen without continued investments.

"Agriculture is driven by new science and technology. The industry’s leadership relies on it — we cannot drop the ball on your industry," he said.

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