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Grant money opens doors for CAFES

September 27, 2007

UW-River Falls will begin a project in sustainable agriculture since being awarded a $460,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The project will be done in connection with Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) and Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). The director of the project will be Michael Crotser, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Plant and Earth Science at UWRF.

The money from the grant will be used to add new courses and a new major in the undergraduate program in the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES). It will help develop curriculum aimed towards work in sustainable agriculture, according to Crotser. It will expand existing curriculum and develop new curriculum, he said.

“Our programs in CAFES are excellent,” Crotser said of the existing programs.

Currently, in CAFES, there is an emphasis in sustainable agriculture that was recently added to the Crop and Soil program. Before, students had a choice of either a soils emphasis or a plant emphasis, Nathan Casper, a junior majoring in crop and soil science at UWRF, said. The online catalog describes the plant emphasis as a crop emphasis.

Casper began working on the sustainable agriculture emphasis. He switched from the soils emphasis, which he studied briefly.

The sustainable agriculture emphasis seemed to be a better match for him, Casper said. He felt the emphasis to be beneficial to the crop and soil science program, as he thought it might attract people to the program outside the normal cash crops, such as corn and soybeans, and also attract those people interested in selling their product directly to their customers.

The sustainability aspect in agriculture does not only concern protecting the environment, but that success for the agricultural producer is also key, Casper said.

“We’re looking at the science of it,” Casper said about the future of sustainable agriculture.

Crotser gave three components to sustainable agriculture. The first is economic viability, the second is land stewardship and the third is rural community development.

“The Sustainable Agriculture option is the study of economically viable production systems that promote land productivity, energy efficiency, environmental stewardship and rural community viability,” the online catalog said.

Some of the courses that are required for the sustainable agriculture option include CROP 368 Sustainable Agriculture, CROP 486 Organic Food Production Systems and HORT 347 Fruit Science and Production.

The new curriculum available with the grant will also include classes in areas other than crop and soil science, such as in environmental science. There has been more concern from consumers about where their products are coming from, both Casper and Crotser said. This has created new opportunities, Crotser said. In the future, Casper would like to see test plots and a growing site somewhere for students to be able to try ideas out, ideas that are taught about and learned in the classroom.

“I think that would be really exciting,” he said.

As a student in the program, Casper would like to see more hands on research opportunities become available with the money from the grant.