[caption id="attachment_55734" align="alignright" width="405" caption="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)"][/caption]
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.