University of Idaho works to promote ag strengths
By MATTHEW WEAVER
The University of Idaho needs to show the wide-reaching effects of its agriculture research efforts, its interim dean of agriculture says.
John Foltz, interim dean for the university's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, said the university is exploring how best to serve stakeholders.
Professional agricultural speaker Michele Payne-Knoper recently addressed the UI campus about the need to appeal both rationally and emotionally to the public.
"We're supposed to do a whole plethora of things - families and family life, raising kids, nutrition, developing good productive crops and livestock," Foltz said. "More and more, how does that affect the general public and how does it matter to the average person?"
Universities often do well with the logical side, Foltz said, while agricultural opponents often work to address emotions.
The university is identifying its strengths as it develops a strategic plan, working to hone its resources to focus on key needs for large and small stakeholders.
It will develop "programs of distinction," Foltz said. These are areas where it has expertise that resonate with producers and consumers.
Potatoes are a long-standing example, Foltz said. UI's potato research, extension and education support producers, food processors and students who go on to work in the industry, he said. Ultimately, it supports consumers as the industry explores its response to consumer concerns about nutrition.
"It just means we feel we have expertise in potato production, marketing, food processing and food safety," Foltz said. "If we position it right, we can attract resources that help grow our prowess in that area."
For those areas that might not fall under the focused areas of distinction, the university will still have its entomologists, agronomists, soil fertility researchers and agricultural economists to help.
Foltz doesn't expect much change in the university's agricultural priorities, but there could be some shifts as the industries evolve, depending on market and social factors.
As an agricultural economist, Foltz sees strength in both diversification, which spreads risk across many areas, and specialization, which allows efficiency in particular areas.
UI's strengths include its basic and applied research for society and stakeholders, he said.
"The challenge we have is, as we add these things, what sort of things do you try not to do?" he said. "There is benefit in approaching things thoughtfully and try to move in the direction we think the market, producers and consumers are moving."
Foltz is interim dean and a contender for the permanent position. He estimates a dean will be named in the early summer.