The Changing Face of Agriculture

Food, fiber and fuel make up the trifecta of agriculture. As we approach Thanksgiving and reflect on what we’re grateful for, those provisions often spring to mind—especially in time for cooking up holiday feasts and keeping warm in the cooler months. But rising threats like climate change, political instability, growing populations and increasing prices are upending the security of those agricultural products across the world.

Researchers at the CSU are seeking ways to make agricultural practices more sustainable and climate-resilient to ensure the industry will meet future global needs. To support these endeavors, the California 2022-23 state budget awarded the CSU one-time funding of $75 million, split evenly between Chico StateFresno StateCal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

See how these four universities are enhancing their agriculture programs, preparing the next generation of experts and securing the industry’s future success.

 

Chico State

Chico State’s C​ollege of Agriculture is home to the Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems and a fully functioning University Farm with orchards, crop fields and four animal units including the first organic dairy unit established in the western U.S. All these facilities are dedicated to improving the quality and sustainability of their products and will benefit from the upgrades funded by the $18.75 million from the state.

Using about half that funding, Chico State will build a new Agricultural Learning and Training Center at the farm, which will increase the number of classrooms and classes, expand community event space and enhance research facilities.

​“It will be a forum to discuss any challenges that not only the North State has in terms of agriculture, but statewide, nationally and globally,” says Patricia Stock, Ph.D., dean of the College of Agriculture. “Agriculture is global, and the challenges and the needs that we have in one specific area also project to the rest of the world.”

In addition, the farm will upgrade to a more water-efficient irrigation system. “This is a key need considering the challenges we have in terms of water management and resources,” Dr. Stock says. “We want to make sure we have efficient ways to utilize water, and the new technology at the farm will provide a training opportunity not only to our students, but to farmers and ranchers in our region and beyond.”​

With such improvements, the University Farm will be even better equipped to provide students with hands-on learning in both agriculture production and the emerging technologies and practices that will define the future of agriculture.

“Whatever we produce, it will impact the health of every organism on our planet,” Stock says. “We are training and educating students to be global leaders, with multidisciplinary knowledge, skills and tools that will help address current and future challenges in agriculture.”

 

Fresno State

Using its $18.75 million, Fresno State’s Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology plans to “repair, renew and renovate” its 1,000-acre farm, including installing an efficient irrigation system and adding battery-powered vehicles.

“We want to look at our energy portfolio and our water footprint on the farm and … be very deliberate and intentional about the way we use that funding,” says Rolston St. Hilaire, Ph.D., dean of Jordan College. “We’re looking at some broader initiatives that position our university for the future​ in terms of capturing what our students need to learn about climate-smart agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and positioning our students for the modern workforce.”

The goal is to give Fresno State students experience with production, marketing, sales and more on a full-scale farm before they reach graduation to prepare them for the future of agriculture.

“The face of agriculture is changing in terms of some of the techniques that are used in modern production,” Dr. St. Hilaire says. “As an institution of higher learning, we train our next generation of students to become farmers, ranchers and policy makers. One of the unique things about Fresno State is that it has a large farm footprint and that serves our students well because now they’re practicing in an environment that they will see in a normal work environment.”

Ultimately, this training will go beyond enhancing their own professional experience to helping address the global challenges around food security as graduates work to transform agriculture—a main goal of the university’s recently launched Global Agriculture and Food Security Initiative.

“Food insecurity—although it may happen in an isolated area or region—is really a global problem, and that fact was made clear during the pandemic when we saw how vulnerable our food supply chain can be,” St. Hilaire says. “It is important for students to learn to take care of what’s happening regionally and locally, but they also need to be aware of and be attuned to what’s happening globally. … The students who are being trained here at Fresno State are in this unique space where they can make major contributions to global food security because they are at the​ epicenter of the world’s most productive agricultural region.”

 

Cal Poly Pomona

The Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona—which houses urban farms, the 20-acre AGRIscapes outreach center and the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center—has proposed putting the state funding toward three projects that will give faculty and students the opportunity to work in climate-smart agriculture to make it more productive, resilient and sustainable.

“Our talented students and faculty are already leading innovation in the agriculture and food science industries,” Huntley College Interim Dean Martin Sancho-Madriz, Ph.D., said in a CPP article. “And with this commitment of state funds, they will have access to additional state-of-the-art technology to increase their ability to contribute to climate-forward research and drive change in agriculture.”

The first project is an apiary lab for research on protecting bee populations—which are highly important to crop pollination and agricultural production—from the effects of climate change. The university would also upgrade its agriculture equipment to reduce the amount of water, pesticides and fertilizers used at the campus farms. Paired with CPP’s recent acquisition of drones and sensors, these upgrades will “provide students with access to additional state-of-the art tools and equipment and … allow students to develop improvements in sustainable agricultural practices.”

Pending additional funding, the university also hopes to establish a plant processing lab, where researchers could develop plant-based protein alternatives, including for use in various cuisines, and test the products with customers.

“With this investment, campuses can accelerate their contributions to the livelihood of the state of California as learning laboratories for agricultural innovation, sustainability and cutting-edge practices,” the article states.

 

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students and faculty have access to 10,000 acres of land—living classrooms and labs—dedicated to various agricultural operations where they can experiment with practices in the field. The state funding will help make upgrades to its facilities and equipment to ensure they are working with the latest in climate-smart and sustainable technology.

“California is the world’s largest producer of food, with a farmgate value of $50 billion per year,” says Andrew Thulin, Ph.D., dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. “The food, agriculture and environmental science industries foresee double-digit job growth over the next 10 years. Building climate resilience is critical to the future of farmers, food producers and land, water and air resources. On behalf of Cal Poly as well as the entire CSU, we thank Governor Newsom for his support of and investment in educating tomorrow’s workforce.”

Specifically, the university will replace its farm equipment and fencing, make upgrades to reduce the environmental footprints of its facilities and livestock operations, enhance greenhouse facilities and modernize production at its dairy—the largest student-run dairy in the U.S.

In addition, a portion of the funding will kickstart the development of a Plant Sciences Complex to provide students an opportunity to conduct research in the interconnection of soil health, water, air and plants; food safety and biosecurity; and growing vegetation in a controlled environment.

“Today’s investments in climate resilience through sustainable agriculture seek to build long-term stability for food and agricultural systems in the face of intensified weather events and changing climate patterns,” Dr. Thulin says. “At Cal Poly, this is what we teach our students to do every day—develop critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills to make a difference, starting on day one.”

Finally, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo also received an additional $20.3 million to aid in rebuilding its ​Swanton Pacific Ranch, which burned in the August 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fire. The university will add an Education Center on-site focused on programs in fire resilience.


Learn about the impact of the CSU’s Agricultural Research Institute.