Researcher Q&A: Ron Bates - Making a difference, living his dream

Ron Bates's ultimate goal is to provide the best service possible to Michigan residents through MSU Extension.

Ron Bates

Ron Bates, director of agriculture and agribusiness programming with Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, leads programming, staff development and resource creation efforts. His ultimate goal is to provide the best service possible to Michigan residents. Bates sat down with Futures recently to talk about his work. The account of that discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Michigan produces more than 300 agricultural commodities, which ranks the state as the second most agriculturally diverse in the nation (behind California). Ron Bates leads a team of 70 county-based and 79 campus-based staff members in ensuring that MSU Extension provides relevant services to the people involved in the state’s diverse agriculture and agribusiness sector.

“We have a really good group of people working across the state directly with agribusinesses and farmers,” Bates said. “It’s just been really fun and a great learning opportunity for me to interact with such a broad base of stakeholders and our staff working in those different segments of Michigan agriculture.”

MSU Extension helps people improve their lives by bringing the vast knowledge resources of MSU directly to individuals, communities and businesses. Addressing emerging issues and concerns such as biotechnology and genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is always a high priority for the organization, and Bates believes MSU Extension can help reduce consumers’ confusion about these topics.

“I think our role is to be able to be fully engaged in that conversation [about GMOs] in a nonthreatening way,” Bates said. “There is so much information and science that we know – information about safety, environmental compliance, environmental sustainability, as well as impact on the diet. People can take that information and use it how they want to, but it’s important for us to serve as the voice they can trust to help them understand the science.”

As new issues related to food, agriculture, health and well-being gain public attention, Bates said he constantly reevaluates MSU Extension’s programs and resources to help the organization stay relevant and meet people’s needs.

“I’m continually asking the questions ‘Is the work that we’re doing impactful?’ ‘Is it is helping people be able to take that information and put it back into their lives and businesses in a way that will be helpful for them?’ It is very exciting when we’re doing things right and seeing the impact that our staff are having across the state.”

Name: Ron Bates

Title: Director, Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute, MSU Extension, and Professor, Department of Animal Science

Joined MSU: August 1996

Education: B.S. in animal husbandry from Delaware Valley University, which was then Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture, 1981; M.S. in animal science from Oklahoma State University, 1983; Ph.D. in animal breeding from Oklahoma State University, 1986

Hometown: Ligonier, Pennsylvania

Muse (person who has most influenced and/or inspired me): I’ve tried to learn from people throughout my career, so I have many. My mother, my father and my aunt; faculty and farm managers that I interacted with during college; certainly, my graduate advisors as well as the members on my graduate committee. I was very fortunate and they were all very influential in my life.

On my bucket list: I’d like to spend a couple weeks in Ireland and travel across Europe.

Favorite vacation: I always like to be where you can do fun things but yet relax. We like to canoe, swim, and see things that are both from history, as well as geography. But, also where you can take some time and enjoy just being.

On a Saturday afternoon, you’ll likely find me: In spring, summer and fall I’ll probably be out in the yard. One of those things that is never-ending.

Something many people don’t know about me is: I was in the choir in junior high school.

Best part of my job is: Working with the great people we have here. I just have had a great opportunity to collaborate with people who are genuine, good people who are very smart and are really passionate about the job at hand, moving the college, moving Extension forward – that just makes for a really fun opportunity.

If I wasn’t the Agriculture and Agribusiness Institute director, I’d be: I have had the opportunity to do my dream job all of my life, more or less, so I would just be right back doing what I’ve been doing – being on the faculty and doing Extension work.

I went into this field of study because: Growing up, until I was 12 or 13, we didn’t live on a farm. I had friends at the time with a barn who lived about six or seven miles away, so it was bikeable. They were in 4-H, so I was able to join 4-H and raise a pig there at their place. Twice a day, I would get on my bike and ride up there. I kind of got hooked. It was something I really enjoyed doing, and I never let it go. v

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