From wine grapes to hops to hoop houses, the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources has been busy in 2013 with several projects that align teaching, research and faculty expertise with the trends and current opportunities facing the region's agriculture and ag-related industry.
New faculty positions, realigned educational programs, strengthened community connections and new partnerships with other University colleges and government agencies are all part of the college's re-energized, mission-driven focus.
"A lot of good stuff has happened, with new faculty, new collaborations, new department structures all coming together and bringing the college to new heights, with record enrollment this year," Ron Pardini, whose tenure as interim dean ends this semester, said. "And it's wonderful to see Wolf Pack Meats continuing to serve the community."
Wolf Pack Meats, the University's USDA certified meat harvesting and processing facility, just a few years ago was deep in the red with operating expenses outpacing income. It now operates in the black, being booked to capacity for meat processing in the first two days of registration last month. Wolf Pack Meats offers custom meat processing to ranchers and sells packaged meats harvested from the Main Station Field Laboratory in east Reno adjoining McCarran Boulevard.
After taking a close look at the operation and gathering community and industry input, the college instituted a new meat processing price structure with the support of the President's Office. The adjustment aligns Wolf Pack Meats' prices with local industry, providing additional income to the college while striving to not undercut industry prices and create unfair competition.
In addition, the Wolf Pack Meats processing plant is being used in a collaboration with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Herds & Harvest program. Through a new certification course launched this month, the college is helping to educate ag producers in the processing and retail sales of meat in Nevada and teach skills in sanitation and food safety. The classes in meat harvesting and processing use Wolf Pack Meats as a classroom. The certification course filled immediately as soon as registration opened.
Also at the Main Station Field Lab, the University has entered into a new lease with Nevada Vines and Wines for an experimental vineyard with several acres of wine grapes to be planted. The new lease builds on the research of Professor Grant Cramer. With the help of the non-profit Vines and Wines, Cramer expanded his applied research program conducted at the Valley Road field lab by planting 1,800 wine grape plants at the Main Station Field Lab in the spring of 2013. Nevada Vines and Wines is a non-profit group of vine growers and winemakers in western Nevada who would like to see a wine industry further developed in Nevada.
Cramer, of CABNR's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, established his new research vineyard at the Main Station with support from Vines and Wines volunteers who helped plant grapevines as well as provide vines, trellises and irrigation equipment.
Not to be outdone by proponents of an expanded wine industry in Nevada, a new venture got underway in 2013 on the Main Station Field Lab to study and identify hop varieties that may have the potential to flourish in Nevada's high-desert environment and yield highly desirable qualities for Nevada beer brewers. The High Desert Hops Project is a collaboration with the Urban Roots Farm Corps, Cooperative Extension and AmeriCorps.
The five-year study, funded through a Nevada Department of Agriculture grant, will feature several varieties of hop plants. Feedback from Nevada brewers, homebrew shops and craft beer advocates will help decide which varieties will be grown. In all, about 1,000 plants will be planted at the Main Station Field lab. The results of the study of hops as an alternative crop will also provide farmers with reliable production, maintenance, harvesting and marketing data to grow hops successfully. The first year of the study will focus on infrastructure installation, planting and developing a support network within the craft beer industry.
The business and economic development theme of CABNR's 2013 was exemplified by a project begun in the College of Business, in partnership with CABNR, which has taken root at the Valley Road Experiment Station just a short walk from the main campus. The High Desert Farming Initiative, a collaboration between the colleges and the community, features eight hoop houses. The project to enhance economic development and demonstrate suitability for organic farming in high desert climates is also putting food on the table at the University. The first certified crops have now been harvested and are being served in the Downunder Cafe dining commons.
Through applied research and education projects based in the hoop houses, the farming initiative will help increase production and profits by demonstrating and showcasing techniques that extend the growing season in northern Nevada for local growers and the agriculture industry, and helping Nevada farmers find new alternative crops and growing methods.
The new collaborations and projects withstanding, perhaps the most dramatic item from 2013 is the record enrollments in the college, with the total college enrollment rising from 800 just three years ago to 1,200 this past year. As he set out to reorganize the college into three departments, Pardini involved students, the ag community and other stakeholders in the process. The new, streamlined Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Veterinary Sciences rose from 350 students in 2011 to 450 last fall.
"We realigned departments to build new offerings for students, developed two new majors and both strengthened and created new synergies between departments and the ag and rangeland community," Pardini said. "We look a little different than we did in 2010, and with strategic planning and by targeting industry needs our students will be well trained to enter the job market where jobs will exist here in Nevada. It's gratifying to see the new departments and degrees taking hold."
University President Marc Johnson committed in 2012 to initiate a process to identify the college's next permanent dean, signaling "a continued commitment to the educational and research mission embodied by this college."
"Dean Ron Pardini has led the college through a challenging period, starting with the resignation of Dean (David) Thawley after an accident which thrust Ron suddenly into an acting leadership role, and followed by adjustments to budget reductions," Johnson said. "I have appreciated his ability to continue essential functions of student and research support while maintaining stability, progress on important issues and a sense of humor."
The University began a national search and recruitment process for the new dean and with faculty, community and student involvement and support, a new dean was selected at the end of 2013.
William "Bill" Payne joins the University of Nevada, Reno as the new dean of CABNR on Feb. 7.
Payne comes to the University from Texas A&M University, where he was a professor of crop physiology and director of a multi-institutional, $150 million research endeavor aimed at improving food security and livelihoods in the dry areas of the world.
Also as dean, Payne becomes director of the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station, which conducts basic and applied research, programs and collaborations to enhance the sustainability of Nevada's agriculture industry. The Agricultural Experiment Station operates eight field laboratories around the state, including the Main Station Field Laboratory.
"I look forward to working with Bill for a smooth transition," Pardini, who will continue at the University as a professor of biochemistry, said. "He brings new energy and ideas and will keep the college moving forward with positive results."