Quick and Nimble

It’s no secret that the college is facing continuing challenges related to state and federal funding. During the past few years it’s had to make difficult choices. The future will demand careful, strategic application of resources to meet the critical needs of people, businesses, and communities in Pennsylvania. As funds tighten everywhere public and private discussions invariably raise the question, “Why fund agricultural research and extension at all?”

For those only looking at the surface of what we provide the prospect of cutting support can seem reasonable. For those who understand what’s at stake it’s a scary question. Pause a moment to look at the big picture, and the value to the Commonwealth of research and extension comes into focus.

That value was illuminated for me once again during a meeting with a college team involved in the response to spotted lanternfly, an exotic invasive insect discovered for the first time in the United States, here in Berks County. This pest has the potential to impact the green industry, grape growers, tree fruit growers, and the forest and wood products industries in Pennsylvania and the United States.

Potentially that’s a lot of products at stake, a lot of jobs on the line.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has instituted a quarantine of several townships where the insect was sighted in hopes of eradicating the invader before it spreads. A battle has begun and the college is in the vanguard along with state and federal agencies and colleagues across the nation.

Much of the college’s research and extension activities are routine, predictable, almost invisible unless you’re looking carefully. We test plant varieties and seed stocks, explore prevention methods for Listeria and E. coli, publish production guides and manuals for growers, and deliver a wide range of educational products and opportunities for people. But it’s the college’s ability to bring scientific expertise to bear in unexpected situations like spotted lanternfly now, or plum pox or avian flu previously, it’s that capacity that leans toward being priceless.

As our researchers go about their daily work they continually build their expertise as scientists. Our educators refine their ability to deliver information to the people who need it. Support staff maintain the digital communication infrastructure that allows for the collection, and distribution of data across the state, country, and world. Technicians continually refine processes and procedures to ensure our laboratories and field stations are capable of sophisticated examinations and investigations. Like a fire company making sure their equipment is operating in perfect condition, when the alarm sounds, we’re ready to respond.

When an invader like spotted lanternfly appears, for instance.

Dean Rick Roush came to the college from his most recent position in Australia. He’s commented on how you don’t really appreciate the land-grant partnership and the agricultural research and extension it supports until you’re somewhere that doesn’t have it.

I’m not a scientist or educator. But I do witness almost daily the passion and commitment the men and women who investigate and educate have in solving problems. They’re engaged and ready for whatever challenges emerge.

With the support of our partners in Harrisburg and Washington we’ll be ready when the alarm sounds.

Steve Williams