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CALS positioning itself to lead agriculture industry

By Charlie Stott

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 36 - July 25, 1996

Virginia Tech's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is positioning itself to lead the state's $35-billion agriculture industry into the 21st century, the college's dean announced at the college's annual Animal Industry Day.

"Clearly, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is a powerful engine that must help drive the future of this essential industry," said Andy Swiger, agriculture dean.

Currently, agriculture in its broadest form--from food and fiber production through processing, marketing, and distribution--comprises an industry that employs one-sixth of the work force and generates one-sixth of Virginia's economic activity. The college remains the state's primary resource for agricultural sciences and education.

"It is our intention to create a `new' college, built on a vision of agriculture in the early 21st century as shared by industry leadership, state government leadership, and academic leadership-a new college-for a new agriculture-in a new century," Swiger said in introducing the college's strategic plan to serve Virginia agriculture.

In designing the plan, college faculty members and administrators worked with the agricultural industries through farm groups, commodity groups, and other clientele groups.

"We understand and deeply appreciate that while the industry will benefit most directly from these endeavors, it is our commonwealth and its citizens who stand to reap the greatest reward from our efforts." Swiger said. "We therefore recognize that this blueprint for tomorrow must be founded upon and dedicated to the needs of the industry, the state and, most importantly, the people whom we all serve."

The 11 critical issues on which the college will focus its resources are: competitiveness and profitability of Virginia agriculture and agribusiness; educating leaders for the 21st century; natural resource enhancement; sustainable infrastructure and economic development of rural communities; abundant, safe, quality food supply; waste management and utilization; impacts of government law and policy; stability of families; human and animal health; quality of the Chesapeake Bay, rivers and ground water; and quality of life for all Virginians.

Swiger said the college's mission is broader than agricultural production and direct economic development. Connected to other Virginia Tech colleges through the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Virginia Cooperative Extension, "we are diligently working to improve the quality of life of all Virginians by providing research-based educational programs that focus on the development of human capital," he said.

"The sustained health and well-being of Virginia's families and the positive cognitive and leadership development of our youth are two major initiatives in this segment of our research and outreach."

Swiger said that the changes are taking place throughout the college. "The very nature of the programmatic efforts within long-established departments has undergone acute metamorphosis, and Cooperative Extension has embarked on a new frontier that emphasizes multi-county specialized agents who are supported by modern information technology."

Swiger said the "new college for a new century" will build on the strengths of the community-based educational programs in more than 100 local Virginia Cooperative Extension offices, and on the research in on-campus departments as well as at Agricultural Research and Extension Centers throughout the state.

"We will continue to place priority on excellence in undergraduate education. Those seeking greater education and opportunity recognize this college's commitment to high-quality education, a fact reflected in both the numbers and achievements of today's student body. Today, we have one of the fastest-growing undergraduate enrollments of any agricultural college in the nation," he said.

"An educated citizenry is vital for society and our economy, and it is critical in making a substantial and long-term difference in today's closely connected and inter-dependent world. This is especially true in such globally vital industries as agriculture and the life sciences."