Commodity leaders and elected officials gather for annual CALS updates and to meet Chancellor Woodson

When North Carolina’s commodity leaders gathered for their annual meeting at N.C. State University on May 7, the event drew more than 250 attendees, its largest meeting ever. That may be because some particularly noteworthy guests joined the group for a luncheon program and reception following the meeting, where they all had the opportunity to hear from and meet N.C. State’s new chancellor, Dr. Randy Woodson.

Traveling from Washington, D.C., to take part in the meet-and-greet activities were Rep. Bob Etheridge and Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina; Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia; and Don Villwock, president of the Indiana Farm Bureau. Villwock, an alumnus of Purdue University who has known and worked with Woodson for years, was invited by N.C. Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten as a special surprise for the new chancellor   While the main purpose of the meeting was for commodity leaders to meet the new chancellor, it was also an opportunity for the College of Agriculture and life Sciences (CALS) administration to thank the group for their support of College programs and initiatives and convey news and status reports.

The morning meeting included an overview from CALS Dean Johnny Wynne and reports from Dr. Ken Esbenshade on CALS Academic Programs, Dr. Ed Jones on CALS Cooperative Extension and Dr. David Smith on the N.C. Agricultural Research Service. Wooten delivered Farm Bureau updates, and Steve Troxler, state agriculture commissioner, brought news from the NCDA&CS.

Wynne reviewed the teaching, research and extension mission of the College and told the group that N.C. State’s status as a land-grant institution is the key to all its activities, because “the land-grants were established to serve the citizens of the state.” He then thanked the commodity leaders for their partnerships and contributions to the College’s efforts in fulfilling the land-grant mission, noting that “commodity groups have provided $5 million annually in support of the College. … These dynamic partnerships have enabled us to create excellent programs that have impact.”

Describing the current economic challenges to the College, Wynne told the commodity leaders, “We’re going to need your help as the legislature deals with our budget in the coming year.”

Esbenshade presented the goals of CALS Academic Programs and then challenged the commodity leaders to stay in contact with students from their areas in the state and encourage them to come and study agriculture at N.C. State. In addition to enrollment trends and facts on the CALS degree programs, Esbenshade also talked about the minors and certificates programs available and said “students want credentials as well as majors.”

Chancellor Woodson and Rep. Bob Etheridge attend to their fellow speakers during the luncheon program at the May 7 commodity leaders gathering.
Chancellor Woodson and Rep. Bob Etheridge attend to their fellow speakers during the luncheon program at the May 7 commodity leaders gathering.

There are 5,800 students in CALS, and with fall projections, there will be more than 6,000, with 5,000 being undergrads, Esbenshade said. And he assured the agribusiness leaders assembled there, “We have just as many students today interested in ag careers as in life sciences.”

Jones mentioned an extensive needs-assessment that Extension has recently conducted and described the goals, impacts and opportunities revealed by the study. The Extension program has touched the lives of more than 1.8 million people, has involved 241,000 youth and has had an economic impact of about $1 billion in the state, Jones revealed. “We’re told we’re the second-strongest Extension program in the United States,” he said, “second to Texas – but only because that’s a larger state.”

Later, at the luncheon, Chancellor Woodson would underscore Jones’ remarks, saying, “This is a state, a university and a system that has remained dedicated to Extension — a great tradition supported by the county system. This state is committed to Extension like very few in the country.”

In his CALS research report, Smith told the group, “Our research is about outcomes that enrich the lives of citizens; our programs impact every citizen of the state,” and added, “the strength of our program is our people.” Smith presented graphics showing NCARS expenditures – “where it comes from and goes” – and noted  that for every dollar invested by taxpayers, the CALS research generates another dollar (in terms of the return to the state of valuable research discoveries). He then outlined goals to increase College research collaboration with industry when there is a mutual benefit, to conduct research aimed at combating hunger throughout the world and to focus upon the human health and environmental programs important to our state.

He also noted among challenges and priorities the continued balance of commodity support and the growth of the life sciences, as well as  investment in support of core facilities and the research stations.

During the following question-and-answer session, commodity leader Debbie Stikeleather of Iron Gates Vineyards and Winery, praised the CALS faculty and the Piedmont Research Station for valuable support of her wine-grape production. She also wanted to make sure the research station would stay in operation and not fall victim to budget-related closure. Smith assured her that “we have no plans to close the station,” and Troxler echoed that assurance, saying he had heard of no such closing and that “we’re committed to maintaining these research stations and making sure agriculture stays strong.”

After presentations by Wooten and Troxler, Wynne closed the meeting, telling the group, “We want to serve your needs in the best way we can. We don’t exist if we don’t serve you.”

Then at the luncheon, Woodson told the commodity group gathered there to meet him, “I came to N.C. State because of the land-grant tradition” – a tradition, he noted, that had remained vital “largely because you [commodities] have held our feet to the fire.”

Earlier, Etheridge, a CALS alumnus, had told the commodity leaders, “We’ve got to work smart and work together and continue to be creative and use the great resources that no one else in the world has – our great research universities.”

And to the new chancellor, he said, “You’re in one of the great land-grant universities in the country. I envy you: You’re in for a great ride.”

Terri Leith

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