New degree to focus on benefiting Mo. farmers

MU will offer a degree in sustainable agriculture this fall.
Friday, June 18, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:30 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

This fall, MU will become the first educational institution in the Midwest to offer an undergraduate degree with an emphasis in sustainable agriculture.

The sustainable agriculture degree program “is structured more toward a holistic approach to agriculture that includes the farm, environment and community and incorporates the social, environmental and economic components of food production and consumption,” said Tom Payne, MU vice chancellor for agriculture and dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

Research that laid the groundwork for the degree found that while agricultural production is headed toward a factory-farming model, sales of local and regional food products, organic foods and natural foods are increasing.

A committee of students and faculty headed by MU rural sociologist Sandy Rikoon conducted the research. The group also found a high level of student and consumer interest in sustainable agriculture.

“Consumer demands for locally produced and marketed products are particularly important in Missouri, where the state’s ecological base and cultural heritage suggest the sustainable agriculture systems are especially environmentally, economically and socially viable,” the committee’s report said.

“It’s clear that many producers in Missouri and the United States are seeking new market niches for traditional and new products and the kinds of direct marketing links to consumers that sustainable agriculture emphasizes,” Payne said. “Being on a (research-intensive) campus allows our students to take new discoveries and understandings to further improve agricultural methods and achieve a more sustainable agriculture of benefit to all.”

The degree will be offered within the general agriculture program as an emphasis area and a minor from the college. Students can focus on animal, plant and soil sciences or choose an emphasis on agricultural education and the economics of sustainable agriculture. A minimum of 42 credits is required for the major and 18 credits for the minor.

The new curriculum will be one answer to the rising number of chefs and others looking to purchase local and regional foods directly from producers.

“We hope students with an interest in this approach to food and fiber will take advantage of the program,” said interim Assistant Dean Jim Spain, who will also be the adviser for the new degree. “Given the uniqueness, the emphasis in sustainable agriculture provides students an opportunity to add value to their major or use the new major to be better prepared for this area of the agriculture and food industry.”

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