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CAFES adds sustainable agriculture courses

March 13, 2008

The College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Studies (CAFES) is adding four new courses next year which will focus on sustainable agriculture.

  The new courses are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) challenge grant called Sustainable Agriculture in Western Wisconsin. The $460,000 grant was awarded last year to UW-River Falls, the Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) to develop curriculum pertaining to sustainable agriculture. 

  Michael Croster, Juliet Tomkins and William Campbell submitted the grant request to the USDA early last year. Croster is an associate professor in plant and earth sciences and Tomkins is a lecturer in agricultural economics.

  “We’re looking to train students in this diversified sector of agriculture in our region,” Croster said. “There are a lot of students who have interest in that area, and regionally there aren’t a lot of specific programs to train students in those areas.”

  Two of the new courses will be offered in the fall. They include a crop course in organic production systems and an agricultural economics course in direct marketing. The organic production course will be taught by Croster and the direct marketing course will be taught by Tomkins as a special topics course.

  The organic production course objectives are to “provide knowledge and understanding of organic animal and plant production systems, methods of organic certification and organic nutrient and pest management. It will also define and describe issues related to soil and water concentration, environmental stewardship, gene conservation, consumer responsibility, economics, organic organizations and specialty marketing” according to its course description.

  The other two courses, which will be offered in the spring of 2009, are a natural meat and animal production course and an agriculture law land use planning course. The production course will be taught by Gary Onan associate professor of animal and food science and the law course will be taught by Tomkins. 

The spring courses are still awaiting approval from the University.

  “We want to develop visibility that our campus is going to be known for servicing this area of agriculture,” Croster said.     
           
  “We’re looking to train students to meet the needs of the workforce and to maintain pace with current trends in agriculture.”

  For students outside of CAFES, the new courses can be taken as electives.  In the crop and soil sciences major, one of the tracks that a student may take is sustainable agriculture. For those students, some of these new courses will be required. For other CAFES majors, the courses may meet the needs of a directed elective course.

  “All of this came about because we’ve had students on campus who have specifically asked for courses like this, areas of study like this,” Croster said.

  CAFES has also been pressured by the agriculture industry to have more specialized sustainable agriculture courses.

  “While at the Organic Farming   Conference, people were saying that they want more students to be trained in these specific areas so they can have better hires,” Croster said.

  The Organic Farming Conference is held annually by MOSES in La Crosse, Wis. This year 2,500 people attended the conference, according to the MOSES Web site.

  “If anyone … has interest in sustainable agriculture or these courses, they can contact me and I can get them organized and set up to help them out,” Croster said. “Whether they want to major in these areas or just explore the courses, I’d love to help.”