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Infusions Bring Operating Resources to CAHNRS Faculty

Posted by | July 30, 2007

Today, CAHNRS will release the request for proposals for a $1 million internal grants program focusing on emerging issues in the state’s food and agriculture sector. This program, known as “Emerging Research Issues for Washington Agriculture,” represents a large share of the new funds allocated by the Legislature as part of the Industry-Based Unified Agriculture Initiative. As we have determined allocation priorities from the partially funded Initiative, we have sought to insure that we maintain those parts of the Initiative that place flexible operating funds in the hands of our faculty. This priority is strongly supported by the state’s food and agriculture industry. When I conducted 50-plus meetings with industry groups in preparing the Initiative, one consistent theme was that we have good faculty, they just don’t have enough resources to work with. This has become known as the “hay and horses” argument; that is, we have great horses (i.e., faculty), they just need more hay (i.e., operating resources) to make them run faster (i.e., become more productive).

Two additional pools of funds have also been made available to our faculty. The first of these pools, roughly equal to $300,000, is the “Extension Issue-Focused Teams Initiative.” This initiative, being administered by Pete Jacoby, is intended to stimulate the creation of issue-focused interdisciplinary teams to address current and emerging issues impacting agriculture in Washington. This effort is being funded from FY-08 Extension Agriculture Program operating funds together with a pool of funds from the Agricultural Research Center. Funded projects will have a strong emphasis on outreach and will incorporate an applied research component.

A third pool includes approximately $1 million per year allocated as part of the Fueling Washington with Bioproducts Initiative. These funds are to be used for near-term applied research and development in support of Washington’s bioenergy economy. Projects for the current biennium were developed in conjunction with the Washington State Department of Agriculture and involve CAHNRS faculty and staff from five different departments. While these funds are allocated to specific projects during the current biennium, it is anticipated that these funds will be allocated via an internal competitive grants process in the next biennium.

We believe that these three programs represent a paradigm shift in our operating philosophy in CAHNRS. This change in operating philosophy has several components. First, an emphasis on competitive allocation of operating funds. We believe this approach will lead to greater impact and accountability for our state operating funds. Second, the use of internal funds to move faculty to the high priority emerging issues of our stakeholders. In essence, this paradigm shift makes us a more nimble and responsive organization. Third, an emphasis on interdisciplinary, team-based approaches. Finally, the use of internal operating funds to catalyze extramural funding. A central focus of each of these three programs is to position our faculty to become competitive for outside funding. These allocations are not entitlements, but rather an investment in a creative group of faculty to generate the teamwork, data, and research momentum to be more competitive for external funds.

These three programs bring $2.3 million of flexible funds to our faculty and, with the exception of $200,000 provided by Extension Agriculture Program operating funds, all of these funds are new funds available to our faculty. While the reallocation of $200,000 has caused some consternation on the part of a handful of faculty, for the most part this new process of allocating funds via a competitive mechanism has been met with excitement and an entrepreneurial spirit by the vast majority of our faculty. Clearly, there is more hay in the barn. I am confident we will see great things from our faculty.