COLUMBUS — Bruce McPheron believes the ag college is the most important college within Ohio State University.
When he hears university president Gordon Gee talk about the university’s priorities — food production and security, energy and the environment, and health and wellness — he hears issues that are the heart of the research and education mission of the college. And he hears an underlying opportunity for agriculture as a whole.
“These are the things that are important to all of us,” McPheron told members of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation at the opening luncheon of the Farm Bureau annual meeting Nov. 28.
“We’re central to society; we’re central to life.”
McPheron, who is rounding out his first month on the job as new dean of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, reminded the farm organization members that the college’s first principle is to advance their interests.
“You are the food system in Ohio, in America and in the world,” he said. “The Ohio State University belongs to you.”
The university’s priorities will elevate agriculture as one of its most vital program, McPheron said, “and it will be built around what all of you do.”
The success of ag college graduates illustrates that importance, the new dean said, citing the current job placement rate of 92 percent within six months of graduation — a “pretty great statistic.”
He told the Farm Bureau members that no one understands the importance of the Cooperative Extension system more than he does — “I’m a child of the land grant; more than that, I’m a child of Extension” — but changes to the OSU Extension program are inevitable.
“Extension is the heart of what we do,” McPheron said. “It’s education, but it’s education in the real world and in real time.”
But the one-time Extension agent pointed to his smartphone. The online world holds more information than all of the Extension educators put together, and a search for that information takes a half a second. The trick, he added, is knowing what information is correct.
“We need to embrace technology where technology helps us,” McPheron said. “If we don’t change, someone will ask the question ‘what is Extension’ and the answer will be ‘there’s an app for that.’”
“We have to be today’s organization; in fact, we have to be tomorrow’s organization.”
He challenged the Farm Bureau members to voice their concerns to him, but also pointed out that every farmer or small business owner in the room has also had to face significant changes to remain successful.
“You have to support the fact that we have to change, too.”
What Extension brings to the table, McPheron said, is a local presence, and understanding of the context of problems and questions, something a Google search can’t provide.
As a system, Extension has to keep innovating to deliver that unique capacity, he added.
It’s not about the number of boots on the ground, it’s about the brains in those boots, McPheron quipped.