In 1928 A. P. Giannini, founder and president of BancItaly Corporation, bestowed a generous gift of $1,500,000 to the Regents of the University of California. A. P. Giannini had an early affiliation with agriculture and his gift to the university was intended to support California agriculture and rural areas in a period of difficult economic times.
The gift specified that one-third of the gift be used for construction of Giannini Hall on the Berkeley Campus, designated to house the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics. Construction on the building was completed in 1930.
The remainder of the gift became an endowment fund supporting the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural
Economics. The endowment was to provide important support for activity in agricultural and resource economics at the University of California. The gift specified that the annual income from the endowment was to support “the activities of the Foundation (which) are to be regarded as chiefly:
- those of research with the purpose to find the facts and conditions which will promise or threaten to affect the economic status of California agriculturalists; and
- those of formulating ways and means of enabling the agriculturalists of California to profit from the existence of favorable facts and conditions, and to protect themselves as well as possible from adverse facts and conditions.”
The current mission of the Foundation broadly encourages production and dissemination of scientific information relating to production, marketing, and consumption of agricultural commodities; development and allocation of natural and environmental resources; welfare of farm families, farm laborers, and rural communities; and interrelationships among the agricultural sector, the rural community, and other components of the state, national, and world economies.
The Giannini Foundation is a systemwide University of California organization reporting to the Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources in the Office of the President. There are currently 67 active members. Associate membership is accorded to other professional economists with interests in the programs and activities of the Foundation.
The Foundation budget is used to support selected research projects; sponsor publication of the bimonthly ARE Update, which reports topical activities of members; and promote a number of activities designed to enhance the professional work of Foundation members and associates and enhance the relevance of that work to problems faced by society at large.
All University of California teaching, research, and extension programs in agriculture were administered from the Berkeley campus during the first half of the 1900s, including agricultural programs located at the University Farm at Davis, the Citrus Research Station at Riverside, and the Los Angeles campus. The founding members of the Giannini Foundation were an eclectic group, including eight economists (six agricultural economists, a forest economist, and an irrigation economist), the director of agricultural extension and four extension specialists, and the first director of the Giannini Foundation, Claude B. Hutchison, an agricultural scientist who was formerly the director of the Davis branch of the College of Agriculture from 1922 to 1924. Hutchison quickly launched an expanded program in research and extension in marketing, finance, and management problems of California farmers.
The chair of the Berkeley Department of Agricultural Economics served as director of the Foundation for much of its early history. The Berkeley and Davis departments were one department, with the chair at Berkeley and the vice-chair at Davis, until 1966, when the Department of Agricultural Economics became an independent unit of the College of Agriculture at Davis. Reorganizations since have attempted to recognize the expanded spheres of responsibilities that have resulted from delegation of many activities to general campuses of the university.
Leadership of the Foundation is now vested in the Giannini Foundation Executive Board with three Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics standing members (UC Vice-President of Agricultural and Natural Resources and chairs of the Berkeley and Davis departments) plus two Foundation members—one each from Berkeley and Davis serving staggered six-year terms, with the senior one named as director of the Foundation for a three-year period.