Burgess’ most immediate administrative challenge is to fill three critical CALS associate dean positions in the areas of academic programs, Cooperative Extension, and the Agricultural Research Station. Sander’s retirement coincided with the retirements of associate deans Colin Kaltenbach, Jim Christenson, and David Cox.

The so-called ‘gang of four’ retired with a combined 95 years of UA service.

“It’s challenging but we are pushing very hard (on the new hirings),” Burgess said. “We are moving very quickly to fill those positions.”

Burgess move to Arizona’s land-grant university system comes amid tough fiscal realities in the Grand Canyon State. State of Arizona budget cuts have sliced budgets at the UA and other state colleges and universities. His goal is to work smart for UA CALS stakeholders with available funds.

“We need to be very fiscally responsible, very lean, very adaptable, and look at revenue generation,” Burgess said. “We also need to look at where the state of Arizona needs the University of Arizona to be in the next 10 years.”

On academics, Burgess is committed to preparing CALS students for the real world.

“We have to make sure we meet our academic mission,” Burgess said. “This is not only about giving students technical skills. We need to make sure our students go out into the world and compete to be successful.”

Burgess’ vision for Arizona production agriculture is to maintain the university’s role as a trusted source of information – ranging from developing new technology and testing existing technology including chemicals, new crops, and irrigation systems.

“We need to be the trusted source that our individual producers can go to,” Burgess said.

Arizona agriculture is a $10-plus billion industry producing a smorgasbord of food and fiber for consumers domestically and worldwide. Agriculture is a sturdy backbone for Arizona despite the Great Recession. Arizona was among the fastest-growing states in the nation when the nation’s economic tailspin headed south.

“Agriculture has provided a buffer and a foundation for Arizona,” Burgess declared. “Agriculture has kept the state afloat.”

Through his visits with community leaders, Burgess understands that agriculture, water, and electricity for pumping water go hand-in-hand.
“The link between water and electricity is very clear to me because we do so much pumping and move a lot of water around. It’s difficult to distinguish the two especially when water is producing electricity at the same time.”

On food safety, Burgess says U.S. farmers and ranchers produce the cheapest and safest food in the world. The agricultural industry has a good handle on food safety.

“We have some issues that we have to keep an eye on in large-scale animal production to make sure we don’t have food contamination. This can be handled and is doable.”