Cal Poly's College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences was awarded $39.5 million in one-time state funding to build long-term stability for food, forestry and agricultural systems in the face of intensified weather events and changing climate patterns. The funding will assist in providing the infrastructure needed to build programs to teach future generations sustainable agriculture practices.
"The food, agriculture and environmental science industries foresee double-digit job growth over the next 10 years. Building climate resilience is critical to the future of farmers, food producers, and land, water and air resources," says Andrew Thulin, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. "Today's investment by Gov. Newsom and the state legislature in sustainable agriculture will benefit future generations by providing students entering the workforce with skills that make them ready to tackle the environmental challenges we're facing."
California's 2022-23 budget, signed by Newsom on June 30, includes $20.3 million in one-time general funds to rebuild Cal Poly's Swanton Pacific Ranch and $18.75 million of $75 million earmarked for California State University farms to make equipment and infrastructure improvements to the university's agricultural production units. State Senator John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), who chaired the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education, and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) worked directly with Cal Poly leaders to secure the funding.
Swanton Pacific Ranch: The funding for Swanton Pacific Ranch in Santa Cruz County will assist the university in recovery efforts following the August 2020 CZU Lightning Complex fire that destroyed nearly all structures and forced evacuation. The extent and ferocity of recent catastrophic wildfires, including at Swanton Pacific Ranch, have elevated the need for improving the health and resiliency of forests prior to and after wildfire, especially in California's coastal redwood ecosystems, as wildfires become more frequent.
The funding will be used to help offset remaining restoration costs at the ranch and help fund the college's effort to build an Education Center at Swanton Pacific Ranch. The Education Center will provide on-site learning opportunities for students to better meet the workforce development and research needs of California, enabling the college to help create actionable climate-smart solutions critically needed by the state and beyond. Students will have regular access to the Education Center through field trips, weekend enterprise classes, senior projects, undergraduate research and residential internships. In addition, access will be available to Cal Poly or visiting faculty conducting research, industry and government agency participants, and participants in seminars and short courses, including those participating in existing CAL FIRE grant programs associated with the ranch.
In the classroom, students will be taught practical lessons such as designing vegetation management plans to make forests more resilient to fire. Participants will be able to partake in fire recovery research and aid in reforestation efforts that include planting 55,000 trees across 270 acres. The fire destroyed housing at the ranch, so students, faculty, staff and participants in workforce training must stay and learn in hotels 20 miles away in Santa Cruz. When constructed, the Education Center will be able to provide short-term, overnight accommodations for students, faculty, government and industry partners associated with this programming.
"I am proud to have Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in my Senate district and am heartened to know this year's budget includes funds that will help our community rebuild following the destruction caused by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire," State Senator John Laird says. "The dangers of climate change, including continued and increasingly devastating wildfires, are an existential threat felt across the state. As chair of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education and chair of the Senate Working Group on Climate Change, I was uniquely positioned to help secure the $20.3 million to support much-needed infrastructure and rebuilding efforts at Swanton Pacific Ranch."
University farm funding: The $18.75 million will directly enhance hands-on learning opportunities for students and prepare them for careers that address sustainable food production and agriculture, water and drought resilience, forest health and wildfire resilience, food biosecurity, automation and energy. The funding was made possible through the collaborative effort of the four CSU campuses with agriculture colleges: Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo; Cal Poly Pomona, Fresno State and Chico State.
At Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, more than 4,100 students are actively engaged in academic programs with direct ties to agriculture. Students work directly on the nearly 6,000 acres on campus managing onsite operations and gaining first-hand experience that prepares them for successful careers.
California is the world's largest producer of food, with a value of $50 billion in gross income per year. More than one-third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of the country's fruits and nuts are grown in California — making it essential that the future workforce is prepared to address climate-smart agricultural solutions related to food security.
The funding will be used to replace aging farm equipment with climate-smart upgrades, enhance the Plant Sciences program with greenhouse facility upgrades, modernize dairy production and processing facilities while decreasing its environmental footprint, and enhance sustainable working landscapes on campus for the college's livestock.
The College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences employs more than 400 students at its 15 food and agriculture production operations on campus, where students learn first-hand the intricate details of managing and operating these units. In addition, these facilities serve as classrooms — exposing students daily to existing challenges and preparing them to be future leaders. The campus dairy is the largest student-run dairy in the United States.
"Student success and Learn by Doing are the foundation of every program offered in the college," Thulin said. "The improvements that will be made with this funding will further the work that is already being done at the ground level to ensure student success by our industry partners, who know that investing in the future workforce is the only guarantee to future food security."
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