MU first in Midwest to offer 4-year degree
with emphasis in sustainable agriculture

COLUMBIA, Missouri, June 4, 2004, University of Missouri CAFNR News: The University of Missouri has become the first educational institution in the Midwest to offer a four-year undergraduate degree that emphasizes sustainable agriculture.

The degree is offered as an emphasis area and minor within a General Agriculture degree from the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR).

MU Vice Chancellor and CAFNR Dean Tom Payne said 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.”

Even as the production of major agricultural commodities moves more toward the factory-farming model, there also has been “increased demand, reflected in consistently rising levels of sales, for local and regional food products, organic foods and ‘natural foods,’” according to the report of a committee that recommended the program.

That committee, headed by MU rural sociologist Sandy Rikoon, was made up of CAFNR students and faculty from a wide array of disciplines within the College. The panel cited high levels 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 that sustainable agriculture systems are especially environmentally, economically and socially viable,” the report said.

Payne agreed. “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,” he said. “This new curriculum also responds to the increasing numbers of citizens, chefs, and public and private institutions seeking to purchase local and regional foods directly from producers. Being on a Research I 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.”

Students trained in sustainable agriculture are in demand for global and international development projects, the committee found. “The current emphasis on sustainable development and the environment by U.S. agencies and non-governmental organizations as well as the adoption of sustainable development by the United Nations and most international development agencies have created a need for students with relevant educational and technical knowledge,” the report said.

“What’s it all mean?” asked Payne. “Well, it’s about choices and exposing students to different philosophies about how food should be produced and marketed. It will allow students the option to investigate and learn about various alternative approaches to agriculture.”

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