Incorporating Organic and Agroecological Approaches into the University Curricula: The Iowa State University Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture

in HortTechnology

Organic agriculture has expanded to a $13 billion industry in the United States in 2005, continuing the nearly decade-long trend of 20% annual growth. Despite the growth in organic agriculture, our scientific knowledge of organic agriculture farming systems remains limited. Interest in sustainable and organic education at the university level has increased in recent years. To help address this need, the Iowa State University Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture (GPSA) was established in 2001 to meet three principal objectives: 1) provide students with the analytical and problem-solving skills required to meet the challenges confronting agriculture in the 21st century; 2) develop an innovative interdisciplinary and interdepartmental approach to graduate education; and 3) position Iowa State University at the forefront of institutions conducting research and extending knowledge about sustainable agricultural systems. As of 2004, more than 70 faculty from various departments and 29 students have participated in the program. Students have the opportunity to investigate organic issues within the context of the five new GPSA courses and to conduct organic agriculture farming systems research in thesis and dissertation studies. Producers and agricultural professionals are involved with GPSA students through the curriculum and on-farm research. Research questions involving optimizing crop or livestock production, plant protection, soil quality, and socioeconomic benefits of farming systems constitute typical theses.

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