Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Debating the Organic Agriculture College Major

From Portland's KATU via, news of a debate ranging within US colleges of agriculture: should these schools offer majors in organic agriculture? Instructor James Cassidy at Oregon State University says "yes": "One of the only places to make money in agriculture these days is in this specialized market." While many ag. schools do offer courses in organics, the idea of a full-fledged major is receiving a tepid response:
...hopping aboard the organics bandwagon could be a tough sell at more traditional land-grant schools, which have turned their focus to research, leaving less appetite for hands-on training.

"For some of the schools that have very conventional agriculture departments, they don't know what to do with students that want to run an organic farm," said Laura Sayre, a writer and researcher for, a Web site run by the Rodale Institute, a sustainable food nonprofit. "They can't really assimilate them."

In addition, starting up such a major can carry an implicit critique of traditional programs, said Matt Liebman, director of the graduate program in sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames.

"It implies that everyone else is non-sustainable, and they find that fairly threatening," Liebman said. "It can imply a critique of traditional agriculture, and its effects on the environment, or farm size."
As is so common these days, community colleges are taking the lead in this area. As a teacher at an 1890 Land Grant institution, I can't imagine a better way to attract more students to the fields of agriculture and agribusiness. The field itself, from my understanding, is in decline, and something a bit more cutting-edge could prove attractive to students sitting on the fence. Also, I know that at my university (at least from my own observation), many of our agriculture majors come from Carribean and African nations. Organics could provide a way to make these poor countries much more self-sufficient, and even create more goods for them to sell in the global market. Finally, this gets the concept of organic foods and agricultural products into a larger market of ideas, which can only help the economic market for these commodities.

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