University of California agricultural division begins rebuilding process

Nov 12, 2010
by WLJ

After undergoing major restructuring last year due to budget shortfalls, the University of California (UC) Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) Division is now preparing to hire more advisors and specialists with new funding it expects to receive from the state.

Approximately $3 billion has been allocated from the 2010-11 state budget signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. University officials say the money will go to research, academic programs, student financial aid and health education.

The state’s allocation restores $199 million to the permanent UC budget, which was reduced by $637.1 million in 2009-10, or 20 percent of its state general fund dollars. An additional $106 million in one-time federal stimulus funds approved in September brings the total UC funding restoration to $305 million.

“Under the circumstances, it was a very positive budget for the University of California,” said Agriculture and Natural Resources Vice President Dan Dooley.

Given the state’s fiscal crisis, Dooley noted that UC and other state universities were virtually the only areas of state government that received any increase in the current budget.

He said the allocations were exactly what UC sought, although “We did not expect at the beginning of the process that we would end up in quite such a good position.”

“I think one of the things we were able to do was change the relative priority of higher education,” he said. “We put a lot of energy into the advocacy effort and engaged a lot of people, and I think it bore some fruit.”

ANR expects to receive a proportionate share of the restored funds, which would help not only Cooperative Extension but the Agricultural Experiment Station, Dooley said. There is also new money coming in because the division will now receive a proportionate share of student fee income, which is a new calculation, he added.

The administration of the UC Office of the President will distribute funds in the coming weeks.

With the funding augmentations, Dooley said ANR expects to be able to hire 20 to 30 new Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists in the coming year. That’s a substantial bump in the number of positions to be filled, he added, noting that in the last 25 years, “the most I can find that have ever been filled is between seven and eight.”

The fact that ANR is getting a part of the restored funds at all this year is significant since the university has not invested in agricultural research as much as it used to. It currently has 200 farm advisors and 117 specialists in its Cooperative Extension program compared to 325 advisors and 201 specialists in 1990.

It may also be a sign that the division has managed to elevate its profile internally, considering Dooley’s dual role as UC senior vice president of external relations. In the past, funding had been focused on the campuses, with ANR shouldering disproportionate cuts to other areas of the UC system.

Rather than automatically refilling positions of people who have retired, which Dooley said has never been the university protocol, ANR has issued a call to all the Cooperative Extension county offices and the campuses at Davis, Berkeley and Riverside for recommendations.

Deadline for submitting recommendations is Nov. 15.

The division’s program council, which consists of associate deans of the three campuses, as well as representatives of county Cooperative Extension offices and other ANR senior leadership, will review the requests and prioritize them according to the strategic plan laid out last year. Dooley will then make the final decision on which positions to fill.

“We’ll go as far down the list as we can, given the money we have, making sure we retain some prudent reserves in light of the current uncertainties regarding the upcoming budgets,” he said.

Despite having the ANR budget slashed by 20 percent last year, Dooley said the reorganization that resulted from that, which included the elimination of some regional offices and consolidation of business operations and program support, is “working out exceedingly well.”

Although certain areas were cut, such as the Small Farm Program and the Center for Water Resources, all Cooperative Extension advisor and specialist positions were spared, so the program functions and support have not been lost, Dooley stressed.

However, county governments continue to be financially strapped because there’s less money coming from the state, he noted, so county support for Cooperative Extension will keep declining—from about $15 million in the last fiscal year to probably $11 million this year, Dooley estimated.

To deal with dwindling resources at the local level, ANR is trying to pursue a more multi-county approach to Cooperative Extension administrative support while maintaining local delivery of programs and local presence of farm advisors, many of whom already have multi-county assignments.

“My sense is that we can achieve some significant savings for both counties and us on the administrative side and free up some positions, if we’re successful in moving this effort forward, that can be redirected to advisor positions,” said Dooley.

Meanwhile, ANR will also explore in the current fiscal year additional funding opportunities from commodity groups that have an interest in particular research areas.

But Dooley said the main focus for this year is on “beginning to rebuild, because we’re in a fairly positive budget position in spite of the state difficulties,” and “testing the changes we made in the last year and making sure we got them right.”

He said although he doesn’t foresee any specific, major restructuring for ANR in the coming year, he wouldn’t say there won’t be any more changes.

“Regardless of funding, if it’s appropriate for us to look at more efficient mechanisms to administer our programs, we’re going to continue to do that,” he said. “I just think that’s good business. Any successful private business is always looking at its organization and asking the question, ‘Are we properly managing our efforts?’ And we’ll continue to do that here as well.” — California Farm Bureau Federation