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Thursday, October 13, 2011

UNC Pembroke readies sustainable agriculture program

A Sustainable Agriculture Program will be added to UNC Pembroke’s curriculum beginning in the fall semester of 2012.

Dr. Deborah Hanmer

Dr. Deborah Hanmer

Black Line

The Sustainable Agriculture track will be a feature of the Environmental Science major in the Department of Biology. Plant pathologist Dr. Deborah Hanmer will oversee the program.

“Sustainable agriculture is the fastest growing segment in U.S. agriculture,” Dr. Hanmer said. “There are 4,000 FFA (Future Farmers of America) members in our region, and our survey of high school students showed a positive response.”

Sustainable agriculture stands on four legs, Dr. Hanmer said. First, it must be economically viable; second, it is environmentally sustainable; third, it promotes the humane treatment of animals and farm works, and fourth, it generates healthier food.

UNCP’s Sustainable Agriculture track consists of three required courses: Principles of Sustainable Agriculture, Plant Cropping and Weed Management and Pest Management in Agricultural Systems. A 160-hour internship on a farm or in food systems management is also required.

Two other features of the program are optional but recommended, including earning an entrepreneurship certificate from UNCP’s School of Business and engaging in scientific research.

Dr. Hanmer is doing research on the production and use of “biochar” as a soil additive. Other university scientists are studying beekeeping, biofuels and soil nematodes among other topics.

Dr. David Zeigler, chair of the Department of Biology, said that this new track will offer an enhanced program of study in an area that is current and important to many people in this agriculturally rich region.
“This program will utilize the expertise of some of our faculty who have strengths in agronomy, integrated pest management, soil science and other pertinent specialty areas,” Dr. Zeigler said. “I believe this new track fits with the mission of the university in that it is appropriate to the region and carries the potential for positive effects on the local economy.”

Dr. Hanmer is optimistic about the future of the program. “I’m anticipating it will be attractive to many local students with family ties to farming,” she said. “Our survey of high school students taking agriculture classes indicates that 65 percent are interested in careers in agriculture, and 56 percent said they would consider attending UNCP if a sustainable agriculture program is offered.”

The plant scientist said there are many local options available for internships in sustainable agriculture, including organic farms and farmers markets. The farm-to-table movement has the added benefit of helping the local economy.

“We are capitalizing on the growing interest and market that is fueled by people wanting to know where their food is coming from and that is grown locally,” she said. “When you buy locally, it means employment, and that money remains in the local community.”

The Sustainable Agriculture track takes advantage of other opportunities at the university including the entrepreneurship programs started through the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship.

“Farmers are entrepreneurs, and my goal for each student in our Sustainable Agriculture Program is that when they graduate, they will have a complete business plan prepared to launch their own business,” Dr. Hanmer said.

For more information about the Sustainable Agriculture Program, please contact Dr. Hanmer at 910.521.6744 or email deborah.hanmer@uncp.edu.

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