Worldclass agricultural research under our noses

Plant pathologists compare rust-resistant tall fescue (in top of magnifying lens) with a susceptible variety. Photo by USDA

When world-class research plays second fiddle

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating here after one of my colleagues wrote of how agriculture needs a spokesperson in Southwest Farm Press.

Earlier this month, I was on the UC Davis farm for a small grains field day. As discussions on wheat and barley were flying over my head, my mind was focused on capturing it all in print so that I didn’t sound stupid or worse, attribute something to a researcher who didn’t say it.

Some of the research included ideas about breeding healthier wheat, not so much for the sake of the plant, but for the sake of humans who will consume the product. I’ll let you read about it for yourself but I found the whole issue simply fascinating.

This brings me to a tweet I saw from a researcher on the Davis campus that had nothing to do with the aforementioned field day. Apparently Dr. Oz was in Sacramento a few days after the field day to promote healthy eating or snake oil – I can never tell which when listening to him.

You’ve probably heard the stories about Dr. Oz, so I won’t repeat them here.

Apparently the local Sacramento news media couldn’t get enough of the popular talk show host. In response, the UC Davis researcher tweeted, “With so many world-class scientists in the region you highlight Dr. Oz. Disappointed.”

I agree.

How is it that a world class institution located 15 miles from one of California’s largest media markets sits largely ignored while a talk show host with health advice is followed around like a boy-band rock star?

While I’m not trying to single out UC Davis as the sole purveyor of great research, the point is that a campus with such solid research happening on a daily basis is an easy 15-minute drive west of Sacramento. It’s not as if reporters from Sacramento had to pack up and head out of state to interview a research scientist.

Here we have professors, research scientists and graduate students a few miles west of the capital city doing work that’ll blow your mind if you simply tune out the Twitter-sized sound bites and pay attention to what’s going on in agricultural research.

Like it or not, Dr. Oz has star appeal. That is something California and American agriculture is woefully lacking. While we have competent, articulate and educated spokespeople, we don’t have those who can speak for us who are able to draw television cameras at the drop of a hat or can make one phone call and be on radio the same day.

Sadly, all the truth on our side is apparently not enough to evangelize the masses with the importance of agriculture.

We need someone who can command the same attention as a Hollywood actor testifying before Congress on a subject they only know about because they played the part in a movie.

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