Cal Poly strawberry center to complement UC work

02/20/2013 01:11:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Officials with the California Strawberry Commission and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, made the proposed Strawberry Sustainability Research and Education Center official Feb. 19 when they signed a collaborative agreement.

The ceremony in the governor’s conference room of the state capitol made the partnership official after the two groups had been in discussion for several months.

With the agreement, the Watsonville-based commission will contribute at least $1 million over three years to the Cal Poly Foundation.

The research center director, who has yet to be hired, will be responsible for seeking additional funding from the California State University system — of which Cal Poly is part — as well as from private, state and federal sources.

Jeffrey Armstrong Victor RamirezVicky BoydJeffrey Armstrong (left), president of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and Victor Ramirez, chairman of the California Strawberry Commission, sign agreements creating the Strawberry Sustainability Research and Education Center. Research at Cal Poly will complement work by the University of California at its Strawberry Research Facility, Watsonville, and South Coast Research and Extension Center, Irvine, said Mark Murai, who ends his tenure as strawberry commission president Feb. 22.

“We’re definitely dedicated to our long history with UC, but Cal Poly has this unique learn-by-doing philosophy, which we believe will be crucial to solving some of these issues,” he said. “The location on the Central Coast I think will be very complementary in the future, and I think we need all the help we can get.”

As the University of California continues to evolve and change research priorities, Murai said it’s important to the industry to have continuity, which the new center will provide.

A search for a full-time center director has just begun as has the drafting of a job description, he said.

“Our first priority is to search the nation and world for a leader who will help bring all of the growers and the university together, and we can work with this leader to inspire our strawberry growers,” Murai said.

He said he hoped the person is in place by the beginning of the strawberry planting season this fall.

Among the top research priorities are water and labor.

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said these types of partnerships are crucial to maintain agriculture’s long-term viability in the state.

“Strawberries are going to be a model for all of us,” she said.

What had many attending the signing ceremony excited was Cal Poly’s “learn by doing” philosophy, where students are actively involved in research.

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