University looks to make farm financially sustainable

Fresno State student Victoria Tolin picks some basil from green house at Horticulture building at Fresno State on Tuesday Feb. 25, 2020 (Armando Carreno/The Collegian)

The Fresno State University farm laboratory is currently looking into how to make the farm units financially sustainable after three years of triple deficits. 

According to Dennis Nef, dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, the agricultural foundation board looked over the budget in a midyear review and was charged by President Joseph Castro to give the dean the charge to figure out how to make the farm financially sustainable after finding that the labs had faced three years of triple deficits and the reserves were all gone. 

Nef said the issues mainly come from the farm’s current inability to generate enough revenue. 

“One of the things is we’ve got to have more income being generated on the farm,” Nef said. “Some of those operations, and we’ll use the dairy as an example, given the scale that we can operate, we’re never going to be able to make money on the dairy, it just requires a much larger  dairy to make money, but we need to have a dairy.

“So we’ve got to have some enterprises that can make dollars that we can invest in these other enterprises. So the long term plan then says, ‘OK, we’re going to take some land and we’re going to put it into crops that we know can make us good money.”

Nef talked about the farm lab’s financial issues after online claims that the on-campus farm was at risk of being shut down. 

One post on Twitter on Feb. 28 prompted a swift response from the college president.

The post, which has since been taken down, said: “It has come to my attention that rumors surrounding the closure of our on-campus farm have grown beyond just whispers in the hallway. As a student at the college, I felt the need to write to you to voice my utmost disgust for this decision surrounding the shutting down of our farm. Though I may not be from an agricultural background I know that California is one of the largest agricultural states throughout the country.

“Shutting down the farm is further pushing our community at Fresno State away from the career opportunities that this great state has to offer. I further request that you take not only the monetary loss of the farm into consideration but the future of the students that you claim to care about.”

“Your actions on this issue are being watched by the whole community of students and faculty at Fresno State. We write to you in the hopes that you call upon students with-in Jordan College to hear their voices and solutions  surrounding the profit loss of our farm. We will not stand to see our farm empty.”

Castro responded to the tweet saying: “The farm at Fresno State will remain strong for the years to come. The Fresno State Jordan College’s Dean Nef will host a forum for students to learn more about how to be involved in the farm’s bold and bright future.”

Nef said the last thing the college wants to do is eliminate classes, but it is looking at restructuring, resizing, or adding lab fees. 

One of Nef’s ideas was not to eliminate units, like the beef or dairy classes, but to instead to look into consolidation. 

“We have three beef units. We could consolidate them into one. And it would probably help us a little bit,” Nef said. “I think what we’re ending up saying is there will be no elimination of any units at this point. We may consolidate them, but the purposes of those would still be there. 

“We would still be facilitating student hands-on experience in their laboratory courses. We would still be facilitating research on those. We would still be facilitating students’ opportunities to intern or do  volunteer work on the farm. I don’t think that’s going to go away.”

Animal science major student and dairy manager Logan Real said she’s not concerned by the rumors. 

“I work closely with the people that run the farm so I know that we’re not going to be shut down,” Real said. “I think it’s more about just some cutbacks or consolidating classes. Like we might not grow some citrus anymore that doesn’t make much money, but I don’t think the farm is going anywhere.”

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