Braunworth cites need to balance industry support, academic independence
By Eric Mortenson
Bill Braunworth, recently appointed the head of Oregon State University’s Horticulture Department, knows what he’s getting into.
The university’s College of Agricultural Sciences is a critical partner for the state’s farmers and ranchers, and the horticulture department in particular works at the high end of crop production: blueberries, hazelnuts, wine grapes, ornamental plants and more. Big dollars, international trade, thousands of jobs and economic spinoffs ride on agriculture’s success.
“We’re the research and development arm for a lot of what needs to be done to make these crops successful,” Braunworth said.
In an era of tight state and federal budgets, however, the horticulture department and other OSU ag programs will increasingly rely on industry funding, grants and endowments, he said. With that reality comes the need to maintain academic independence and avoid getting too cozy with funding sources.
“We’re not for sale, they don’t buy us,” Braunworth said. “But on the other hand, there can be ways to design programs so we’re not being bought and our research independence, that integrity, is maintained.
“It comes down to how you design programs, so that line is kept clean,” he said.
Oregon State has about 230 to 240 students majoring in horticulture and 35 to 40 more graduate students. Horticulture students in the future will have to be able to communicate in words and numbers, and be able to handle data and budgeting. They’ll also have to collaborate with other people, Braunworth said. Meanwhile, “keeping the science as a vibrant part of our program is absolutely essential,” he said.
The department has statewide and international reach through its extension and research programs, Braunworth said. This past week, an estimated 350 people attended blueberry grower meetings, while 800 people will attend the department’s annual small farm conference and 400 will attend an organic seed seminar. Braunworth sees his job as building upon what he calls a strong foundation.
“We want to stay strong in what we’re doing and be available for new things, and at the same time we need be responsible with the funding we do have,” he said.
Braunworth has long experience at OSU, where he earned a doctorate in horticulture in 1986. Beginning in 1992 he served as program leader of the Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Extension Program, and is credited with preserving Extension horticulture programs in Multnomah, Lane, Linn and Lincoln counties.
In 2001 he led a team of 30 scientists from three universities that investigated the impact of controversial water allocation issues in the Klamath Basin. He previously worked on water use and management in Egypt and as a horticultural researcher in Malawi.
He was appointed interim department head in 2012 after Anita Azarenko left the horticulture department to become associate dean of OSU’s grad school program.