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WCROC, UMM planning course on ag production

By Carol Stender
cstender@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 05/20/2013 9:29 AM

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MORRIS, Minn. —The course on ag production and rural living won't be offered until May 2014, but the staff and faculty of the University of Minnesota and the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris are already preparing the curriculum.

They have been working on it since spring 2012.

The three-week immersion course, Diversity of Production Agriculture Systems, will cover all phases of ag production, said WCROC swine scientist Yuzhi Li. The course will be offered to students from the U of M's main and Morris campuses. The U of M plans to cap enrollment at 20 students.

It is one of 20 immersion courses approved by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. It also meets a requirement CFANS approved of in 2011 for all undergraduates to have at least one high impact experiential learning experience.

CFANS budgeted $1 million toward the development of the experiential learning courses. WCROC received close to $50,000 of the one-time grant.

The course is needed, she said.

"Some students are interested in local foods or organics," she said. "But 95 percent of our food comes from conventional systems. Some are focused on local or organic. There's a lot of debate on ag production, expansion, food safety and animal welfare. The wonder why we are producing food the way we are and they criticize. I hope some people know what we do. At least we can start to educate our students."

The course will focus on each production system, how it developed and what it involves, she said.

Working with Li on the course development are Brad Heins and Lee Johnston from WCROC; Margaret Kuchenreuther and Ed Brands from the University of Minnesota Morris; and Jeffrey Reneau from the Department of Animal Science.

The course will include lectures, readings, field trips, group projects, classroom presentations and debate. Students will interact with producers, community leaders, potential employers and faculty, she said.

Students will journal their experiences as they take part in classroom discussions and visit farms.

"We want to see how they change through their participation in the course," she said.

Students will also learn how to conduct applied research.

"We want them to know that we produce food for the country," she said.

The program's sustainability depends on students' interest and available resources, she said.

"There is great interest among students of CFANS and UM-Morris about how food is produced," the group said in their course proposal. "...This course is the only course that presents students with both conventional and organic/alternative production agriculture. Therefore, students will have opportunities to experience other production systems that are not their favorite, and debate with students who favor different production systems."