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UI president addresses ag funding, partnerships

Matthew Weaver
New University of Idaho President Chuck Staben says the school will continue to be a strong supporter of farmers and agriculture. The president recently met with the Capital Press to talk about the future of funding, research and industry partnerships.

MOSCOW, Idaho — University of Idaho President Chuck Staben says he will seek more funding from the Legislature during the upcoming year to support activities across the university, including agriculture.

“I think those requests have to be couched in terms of how we can have impact on Idaho,” he said.

The university’s forthcoming budget request in August includes:

• $4.2 million to fully fund a 4 percent salary increase.

• A $4 million increase — 5 percent — in the general state appropriation, a request intended to help restore base funding that was cut during the recession.

• $1.5 million for Agricultural Research and Extension services. Last year the university requested and received the same amount.

Staben recently finished his first 100 days as president. He came to Moscow from the University of South Dakota, where he was provost and vice president for academic affairs. He spoke with the Capital Press July 17 in his office.

Among the topics he covered during the half-hour interview:

• Idaho farmers have relied on the university for objective information and help for roughly a century, he said.

“We’re going to continue to play that role,” he said. “We’re a trusted third-party broker, we’re an innovator and we will also educate students who want to oversee a farm, work on a farm, work in the agricultural industries.”

• Staben says the university has long-standing strengths in plant breeding programs, like wheat and potatoes. He sees some strength in dairy science, but said the university likely needs to “enhance our strength” to fulfill its missions for that industry.

“I don’t think I know of specific weaknesses, but I would love to hear from our scholarly community or our industrial community of where we could better serve agricultural needs,” he said.

• Staben started as president in March, and one of his first public talks was to the Idaho Dairymen’s Association meeting.

He said he has been discussing the possibility of a center for dairy innovation or sustainability for Western dairies. It would meet industry needs, offer research opportunities and training for UI students.

• Staben says the university’s partnership with Limagrain Cereal Seeds is strong, noting the international agricultural cooperative has strong scientific capabilities and the ability to scale up seed production and market seed varieties.

“We are a university — we generate knowledge, we disseminate knowledge,” he said. “We’re good at plant breeding and making new varieties, but one of the things we don’t do is take those varieties to the marketplace ourselves as effectively as a company like Limagrain.”

Staben said the university is open to pursuing partnerships with other companies. He also cited strong partnerships within the agricultural industry commissions.

• The university has adopted a more open model on intellectual property licensing, which affects many industry partners, including agriculture.

“One of our needs is to be sure we know how to partner effectively, that we’re nimble enough to do so,” he said. “That’s symbolic of us wanting to get our intellectual property out benefiting the people of Idaho, some of whom are farmers.”

• Staben said farmers will see his focus is on a better Idaho, including agriculture as a key industry.

“They’re going to see us open to their input, expecting to partner with them on important initiatives, supplying the innovation and outreach that helps them be as successful as possible,” he said. “They’ve seen this from the industry for 100 years, and they’re going to see even more of it.”

• National Institute of Food and Agriculture director Sonny Ramaswamy recently visited the University of Idaho as part of a swing through Pacific Northwest universities. Staben believes the university is receiving adequate funding from NIFA, but is always looking to improve.

“We would certainly like to be even more competitive for those funds,” he said.

• Staben believes it’s an advantage for UI and Washington State University to work together, citing the schools’ shared food science program through their respective agricultural colleges. He’s met with WSU President Elson Floyd several times, and said the universities’ agricultural college deans have good working relationships.



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