A Passion for Agriculture

“The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” - Masanobu Fukuoka

Dr. David Gray has a passion for agriculture, connection to the community and relevance to the industry served by the Faculty of Agriculture and Dalhousie University.

An administrator who also teaches and maintains a research program, David Gray believes that a Faculty of Agriculture needs to support industry, share and apply its knowledge and be a catalyst for economic innovation and growth.

It’s often said that a Faculty of Agriculture is different from other Faculties.  True or False?

Now how many times have those exact words passed my lips? Yes a Faculty of Agriculture is different for a number of reasons but the biggest difference is that our entire campus is our classroom. The grass, trees, gardens and fields are not just there to give our students a pretty environment to work in, they are a fundamental part of our delivery and, as such, need to be managed carefully and effectively. Add to that the additional responsibility of caring for a large number of animals on campus and ensuring that we maintain strong links and dialogue with the industries we are there to serve and support and you can start to see the differences.

The Faculty of Agriculture is the only Dalhousie Faculty to provide diploma programming?  What are your views on this?

It’s exactly what we should be delivering. We need to be delivering qualifications which are relevant to the industries we serve and have “currency” in the workplace. The Diploma does exactly that and has an important place in the progression of our students up the educational ladder. Modern education should be viewed like an escalator….students should step on and move up through achieving appropriate and relevant qualifications with us and then step off into employment…but their progress shouldn’t stop there…they will continue to learn whilst in the work place and we need to have a system in place that allows us to recognise that progress so that when they return to us for further study and CPD they step back on the escalator higher up.

Agriculture impacts those not directly involved with the industry but those stakeholders do not often realize it.  How do we make agriculture more relevant?

Hmmmm…I don’t think it’s about making agriculture more relevant…there isn’t one person on this planet who’s life isn’t significantly affected by agriculture so it cannot be any more relevant…I think our challenge is to make people more aware of that fact. Without agriculture where would we be? Where would our food come from? Our job is not just to educate the students that enrol with us each year, we have a responsibility to help the wider community understand the importance of Agriculture and the contribution its makes to the local, regional and national economy.

You mention our job is not just to educate the students that enrol with us each year, but that we have a responsibility to help the wider community understand the importance of Agriculture and the contribution its makes to the local, regional and national economy. How do you see us accomplishing/approaching this?

I’m passionate about community engagement and outreach. In my previous Faculties and institutions we have developed programmes of engagement with our feeder schools, locally, regionally and even nationally. It is important to get to our youngsters and introduce them to agriculture, aquaculture and environmental issues at an early age…this can also help to engage parents and the wider community too. Taking what we do into their classrooms… “Growing our own wood” (excuse the pun). It is also important for the Faculty and campus to be seen as a full part of the community and so opening our doors whenever possible, holding regular events to bring the broader community to us, open days, a series of public talks, “bite sized” taster courses…obviously we also need to communicate with the modern generation using the medium of choice…so we need to have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, we need to utilise blogs, wikis, podcasts.

Approximately 60 per cent of our students are from Nova Scotia and 20 per cent are international.  What is your vision to help us reconnect with the other Atlantic Provinces as per our regional mandate?

When you are the only Agricultural Faculty in the Maritime region it is easy to become complacent. I don’t want our students to come and study with us because we are the closest, their “local” university…I want them to come out of choice because we are the best at what we do. So not only should we view our mandate as being regional but also national. We have some key unique selling points which we do far better than anyone else and people across our region and across the country need to know that…we need to find a way of getting that message out there. We need to be more visible in the industry, we need to have a constant dialogue with our key customers and stake holders, they need to truly believe that we are listening and are able to help them benefit economically.

How important is regional cooperation in agricultural issues?

It’s crucial. Agriculture is a global business, simple as that. Regional collaboration and cooperation allows us to pool our knowledge and resources and “punch well above our weight” and remain competitive on the global stage. Canada has always been one of the top players in global agriculture but there are some huge competitors out there now and our role as The Faculty is to support our industry, share and apply our knowledge, be a catalyst for economic innovation and growth.

If you were designing a dynamic, vital and valuable agricultural industry from scratch, what component parts would you include?

An interesting question but having been involved in the significant growth of the Aquaculture Industry in Shetland and Scotland over the last 5 years (it’s now worth a staggering £300 Million per year to the Shetland economy) I have some views on this.

Any modern industry will only be successful if it works in partnership with science. Industry-Science Partnerships are incredibly strong, they harness innovative thought and ground-breaking research to deliver economic impact to the communities they serve….and for this to work it needs a change in culture, not just within industry but also within the University sector. Applied research is fundamental in moving us forward and should be a key part of what we do and how we do it. Universities are now being measured not just on the number of peer reviewed papers they produce but also on their economic impact.

Why are faculties of agriculture important in this country?

I think my previous answers may have started to answer this question. Faculties of Agriculture, by definition, should be grounded in the industries we serve, we should be a “one stop shop” for our customers who need advice, guidance, research, training and education and we should be applying theory to practice and having a direct impact on the bottom line wherever possible. We should be a cornerstone of our community and work with our local schools in educating the next generation as to the importance of Agriculture and help to dispel some of the myths surrounding our industries. We are there to help government develop realistic policies that will help take the Atlantic region forward as a major player in global agriculture. We should be approachable and not seen to be sat in

“the ivory towers of academia”…not afraid to get our hands dirty, lets understand why we are here and always keep that in our vision.

What are the major differences between the systems of higher education in the UK compared to Canada?

The UK system is interesting as it now has “sub divisions” through the devolution of powers from parliament to both Scotland and Wales…so it’s becoming pretty complex. For example, students in England now pay their own fees and the fees have just been raised again. In Scotland students fees are paid by the government which makes it much more attractive for students to study in Scotland. Due to the fees increase more and more students are looking to study closer to home, through online courses or on a part time basis whilst being employed. This has changed the way Universities approach the delivery of courses and programmes. Whilst in Buxton I led a Funding Council Pathfinder project to deliver Honours Degrees in two years on a fulltime basis.  One could argue that the UK system has become more about “mass education” than the individual student experience and that is a real shame. It is quite clear that Canada still places significant importance on the quality of the student experience which is very attractive to me.

Connect with Dr. Gray on Facebook, LinkedIn or when he takes over our Twitter feed.