Ohio State Ag Dean Cathann Kress eyes ‘grand challenges’

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Dr. Cathann Kress
Dr. Cathann Kress attended her first Farm Science Review since being starting as dean of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in May. (Susan Crowell photo)

LONDON, Ohio — Cathann Kress hit the ground running. She started as vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State University May 1, and now, four months later, has a list of ‘grand challenges’ she’s ready to tackle.

Kress outlined those challenges during the Celebration of Ohio Agriculture Sept. 19 at the Farm Science Review.

“We’ve got a lot of grand challenges in agriculture, and if agriculture has them, that means everybody has them,” Kress said, adding that the college is launching efforts to create focus and leverage resources to address them.

The first challenge of agriculture is food security, the new ag dean said, and encompasses not just food production, but also food distribution and managing food waste.

“We really have to think about it throughout the whole chain.”

Water quality is her second grand challenge, and “there’s no easy answer, we’re not going to solve it,” Kress said. “We have to find a balance.”

What might work to address water quality in one part of the state may not be the solution in another part of the state, she added. “It really is that complicated and complex.”

“And that’s where our scientists and their research can really make a difference.”

Kress also identified a third grand challenge as the concept of “one health.” It’s not just human health, but how it’s interconnected with animal health (think antibiotic resistance) and environmental health. The ag college is uniquely positioned — at a university with both a veterinary medicine college, a college of pharmacy, and the medical college — to address the challenge, she added, from gene editing to nutritional quality, and make a significant difference to impact health.

A fourth challenge is the rural-urban interface. Ohio has a growing urban population “with very little understanding of agriculture or why we do what we do.” And at the same time, Kress added, there’s been a separation of the farm and rural economies — a strong farm economy doesn’t necessarily equate to a strong rural economy.

The knowledge gap is significant and has implications for a future workforce, as well as public perceptions of agriculture and the support for policies and investments needed to balance these challenges, she said.

“I think our college has a unique role to play in helping with that communication, in cultivating those future leaders and in keeping a laser focus on our state and the needs of agriculture within our state.”

Kress called the research opportunities “unprecedented” and emphasized the need to attract and prepare the students for the future.

“We have considerable strength in the college,” Kress said. “But our real strength is in our mission — unchanging, fundamental and of paramount importance: We sustain life.”

University challenge

Ohio State University President Michael Drake voiced his own grand challenge during the Review luncheon: taking all the accomplishments — the incoming freshman class is the most diverse, and the university recently boasted the highest retention rate and highest graduation rate — and moving it forward.

OSU President Michael Drake
OSU President Michael Drake

He said the board of trustees has approved a new strategic plan for the university that builds on “five pillars”: teaching and learning; access, affordability and excellence; research and creative expression; academic health care; and operational excellence and resource stewardship.

The goal, Drake said, is to be the best university we can be, and do the most for as many people as we can.

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