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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, June 11, 2012, 6:00 am

New agriculture dean wants entrepreneurial spirit for SRJC’s Shone Farm

Revenue from wine, other products could help programs expand

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    Ganesan Srinivasan tastes corn grown by students at Fresno State. Srinivasan has been director of the University Agricultural Laboratory at Fresno State, and is the new dean of agriculture at SRJC (AP Photo/ Tracie Cone, courtesy SRJC)

    SANTA ROSA — Entrepreneurial initiatives at Santa Rosa Junior College’s 365-acre Shone Farm in Forestville are likely to expand in the coming years, an effort that the school’s new dean of agriculture and natural resources said will help generate revenue to grow the popular program at a time of historic budgetary constraints.

    Pursuing further commercial ventures at the farm will carry two major benefits — providing additional real-world agribusiness exposure for the 2,000 students enrolled in department courses, while also generating profits to fund equipment and other purchases, said Dr. Ganesan Srinivasan, the new dean of the department.

    “We want to teach our students how to make money in agriculture. What better way to do it than make them responsible for generating some revenue for the farm?” Dr. Srinivasan said.

    Chosen to head the department after the July 2011 retirement of former dean Stephanie Thompson, Dr. Srinivasan spent seven years teaching agriculture at California State University, Fresno before joining the staff of Santa Rosa Junior College on May 31. His teaching role followed 15 years in research at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico City, where he helped develop hundreds of improved corn varieties for use in the developing world.

    At Fresno, Dr. Srinivasan oversaw programs at the 1,000-acre “University Farm Laboratory,” a farm with 25 commercial ventures and $7 million in annual revenue. The farm included the country’s first commercial bonded winery under a four-year university, and generates yearly profit margins of approximately 10 percent.

    That revenue allowed the school to expand offerings for the 1,000 students enrolled in the department, including increasing production at the Fresno State Winery from 500 cases a year to approximately 8,000.

    “We were able to generate those revenues and invest back into the farm. It was unique revenue not found in many places. Especially at these times when funding is getting tight, it’s important to have a revenue stream where we can supplement government funding,” Dr. Srinivasan said.

    Santa Rosa Junior College’s winery, which creates award-winning wines under the Shone Farm label, produces 300 to 400 cases annually. Sales top $86,000 a year for the $20-to$30-a-bottle wines, which are available at a number of specialty grocers and for tasting at the Wineyard in Santa Rosa’s Vinters Square.

     By expanding storage and other facilities, Mr. Srinivasan said that his goal was to produce from 3,000 to 4,000 cases annually at Shone Farm in the next five years, with the possibility of producing up to 5,000 by that time.

    That growth would not be purely commercial, as farm facilities are constructed in a way that serves students.

    “We want to maintain a balance. We are an educational winery. We don’t want to compete with local wineries – that’s not the goal,” Dr. Srinivasan said.

    Wine is not the only commercial venture at Shone Farm. This year, the school began selling olive oil produced from its 1,800-tree olive orchard for $18 a bottle, as well as beef jerky for $8 a package. The school also maintains a community supported agriculture program, commonly known as a CSA, for a limited number of clients including the new B. Robert Burdo Culinary Arts Center.

    Distribution of those products is currently limited, with 165 bottles of olive oil and jerky in 135 individual packages produced and sold at The Wineyard and Santa Rosa Junior College. Yet exploring these and other revenue-generating ventures remains an important goal for college President Dr. Frank Chong, particularly at a time of budgetary strain.

    Shone Farm currently produces a variety of products as part of its academic programs. In the future, the farm could find a commercial presence in products such as goat cheese, milk products and, leaning on Dr. Srinivasan’s research experience, sweet corn.

    Culinary partners could help in distribution for those products, and suggestions for direct-to-consumer sales include a Shone Farm market on campus and a mobile market, Dr. Srinivasen said.

    “The community will support it because it is locally grown and fresh, and money will go to support the academic program,” he said.

    The Agriculture and Natural Resources department currently offers 16 associate degrees and 27 certificate programs, in fields including Equine Science and Agriculture Business Management.

    Employment prospects are currently “phenomenal” for those studying agriculture-related fields, Dr. Srinivasen said. The North Bay’s wine industry continues to offer opportunities, along with other agribusiness ventures.

    “There is so much demand for well-trained students. There is no shortage of jobs,” he said. “Even though there are areas that are struggling, agriculture is doing well, even in this economy.”

    “Everyone has to eat three meals a day,” he said.

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