The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is partnering with Illinois Central College and eight additional Midwest community colleges to support hands-on student learning in the field, to develop future conservation-minded farmers and ranchers and to cultivate more graduates interested in pursuing careers with NRCS.
On Monday, September 21, representatives of the Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancement (C2A3) and NRCS held a virtual ceremony to formally sign a national memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop a cooperative framework. The framework aims to enhance and accelerate training and adoption of technologies and best practices for improved agricultural productivity and natural resources stewardship.
“Through this partnership, NRCS and member institutions are developing local plans to address regional and statewide challenges as well as support student internships and other training opportunities for college faculty, NRCS employees and producers,” said ICC President Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey. “This MOU provides the necessary framework to work together on common needs from a national perspective, while also providing the flexibility to address local concerns.”
The C2A3 collaboration was born out of a mutual desire to provide ongoing education, training and demonstration projects to future farm producers and agricultural service providers with the goal of improving the health, and therefore the long-term productivity, resilience and sustainability of the soil.
“Community colleges educate nearly half of all under-graduate students in this country and yet, our agriculture programs have been an under-utilized resource within USDA,” said Dr. Tracy Kruse, C2A3 board chair. “The majority of our students are the producers in fields. They are technicians in our local co-ops and implement dealers; and they are our agronomy and seed sales professionals. Through these efforts, we hope more of them will also become the soil health specialists and conservationists for local NRCS offices.”
All C2A3 member institutions, including ICC, have college farms and can utilize their land resources for the implementation of conservation practices to help educate and inform students and producers. The goal of the cooperative agreement is to accelerate the adoption of conservation practices in the education of current two-year agriculture students and disseminate information to the broader community through field days and other college events and partnerships.
In addition, the colleges are utilizing the network to share resources, knowledge and expertise. Collectively, they are working on a grant through USDA’s North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which seeks to increase awareness, knowledge and skills related to soil health, cover crops and no till agriculture. The development of content such as videos and case studies for the classroom is a critical component to help illustrate concepts of profitability, sustainability and productivity. These assets will be shared across the network for the benefit of all member institutions.
In addition to ICC, C2A3 member institutions include Central Lakes College (Staples, Minn.), Clark State Community College (Springfield, Ohio), Ivy Tech Community College (Lafayette, Ind.), Northcentral Technical College (Wausau, Wis.), Northeast Community College (Norfolk, Neb.), Northeast Iowa Community College (Calmar, Iowa), North Dakota State College of Science (Wahpeton, N.D.), and Richland Community College (Decatur, Ill.).
For more information about C2A3, visit the organization’s website at agalliance.net.