With his leadership experience and versatile background in academic disciplines, Pennsylvania State University’s dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, Richard T. Roush, combines his vision for the College with furthering Pennsylvania agriculture.

Since his appointment October 1, 2014, the dean has been refocusing the College and Extension, centering on more collaboration with other colleges, and the startup of numerous working groups.

Dean Richard RoushPhoto by Bob Ferguson

Responding to budget cuts

The College has been hampered by budget cutting – and the Extension will soon play a key role in training and educating farmers and growers in the implementation of the sweeping Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). The College has already instituted the Food Safety Hotline to field questions, and developed educational material for Pennsylvania processors. Penn State food scientists also have been researching incorporation of antimicrobial agents into edible films to reduce bacteria on food products, and experimenting with high-pressure processing to kill the pathogenic E. coli. While noting that no outbreaks have ever been traced to Pennsylvania farms, professor Luke LaBorde said, “We want to keep it that way.”

Roush suggests training students not just in agriculture but also in entrepreneurship and innovation. He said, “Penn State has a history of graduates trained here, then left to create elsewhere.” He wants to halt that trend. “Blending agriculture and engineering, and setting up a company,” he said, “Students should be aware that they can do that.” He points to Penn State trustee and alum Keith Masser, of Sterman Masser Potato Farms. The company advanced from growing and shipping to processing and marketing value-added lines and trademarked specialty potatoes.

“A great example of technology is the InterSeeder,” Roush continued. “It’s a good example of the College addressing head-on the challenge of agricultural runoff and less erosion.” (See related story on page 36).

Speaking to water quality

Roush sees Pennsylvania’s abundant water as a significant advantage. But water quality – and not just in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed streams – remains an issue. He suggested that student internships in this field could assist in educational outreach plus bolster their future job prospects. Storm water management, cover crops and other research have career potential. Master gardeners, too, can help educate the public.

When conferring with more than two dozen commodity groups in the Commonwealth, he quizzed them about the issues they would like to see the College address in the short and long term. Issues getting more than a mention included water quality, FSMA, and labor.

Roush credits Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding’s efforts in labor recruitment and management. In addition, the Dean noted that Pennsylvania can benefit from the agricultural planning now being carried out by the Secretary. The Commonwealth, possibly due to its diversity, often has not stressed strategic planning.

Roush would like to see more agriculture developed outside the nutrient-rich southeastern area of the state. High-profit animals concentrate there.

Pennsylvania farms are highly diverse, and with an average of 78 acres, relatively small. The dean believes there is considerable potential for even more diversity.

Roush commented that other states study Pennsylvania’s important farmland preservation’s program. From its inception almost three decades ago, the Commonwealth, through federal, state, county and local governments, have invested nearly $1.3 billion to preserve 506,761 acres to date on 4,782 farms in 57 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.

With respect to genetic engineering, Roush noted that colleges should be providing contact details, and making rapid responses to the media to attempt to attain balanced information. He pointed out that genetic engineering provides a net benefit to the environment and developments such as golden rice provide nutritional and economic advantages. Although genetic engineering has been effective in combating diseases, strident opposition persists.

Genetic engineering in Ag’s future

Roush said the future of agriculture will include more genetic engineering and classical breeding, plus greater organic production. Big data, precision agriculture and more innovation will accelerate. He foresees reinventing sustainable agriculture to feed the planet’s projected 9 billion people by 2050. And, he said, “The country is too fraught with long-term problems to not take advantage of technology. We’ll need more integration of the best techniques.”

A little background

Dean Roush earned his doctorate in entomology from the University of California, Berkeley, and his entomology bachelor of sciences degree from the University of California, Davis. He joined Mississippi State University as a faculty member and researcher, then Cornell University as an associate professor, and later, Australia’s University of Adelaide as an associate professor.

At Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre for Weed Management, he served as the chief executive officer. Back in the University of California, Roush directed the Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, and also served as director of the school’s Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education Program.

In addition, Roush has consulted with major chemical corporations on the management and prevention of resistance to conventional and biological pesticides, and genetically transformed plants.

His refereed journal articles number about 100 along with more than 30 book contributions. The research includes exotic pests and disease management, plant breeding, and biological controls, plus numerous insect studies. He also is a reviewer for multiple journals and scientific proceedings.