Students in SUNY Cobleskill’s Sustainable Crop Production Program play a fundamental and continuously-advancing role in the food system: taking thousands of years of agriculture and implementing sustainable practices. In learning to do so, their education combines soil and plant sciences, chemistry, biology, and the social sciences.
In the Sustainable Crop Production Program, the only of its kind in the SUNY system, students develop an understanding of the three legs of sustainable agriculture and apply them to crop production. Economic, environmental, and community factors equally support sustainable agriculture, meaning sustainability becomes impractical when any one factor becomes compromised. An education in sustainable crop production is as important to those with entrepreneurial mindsets as it is to those growing crops at home.
Education is one facet of sustainable crop production; applying knowledge is another. Along with adjunct Professor of Plant Science, Christine O’Dell, Dr. Grace Armah-Agyeman, of the Sustainable Crop Production Program, is cultivating an entirely-organic plot. The organic certification process takes a minimum of three years for plots previously used to grow crops conventionally; the project, started in July, is in its initial stages.
“There is no perfect agriculture,” says Dr. Armah-Agyeman. “Nobody has figured one out. Organic is as close to perfect as we’ve come.”
This fall, the two professors guided a student in an independent research project, planting winter “cover crops” to enrich nutrients in the soil. The team will till the cover crops back into the soil, creating an organic fertilizer, or “green manure.” The trio planted an edible garden and will later plant “trap crops” to divert pests from the “economic crops” they plan to harvest. Each technique is a basic practice of sustainable crop production. No matter the size of the agriculture, there is always room for increased sustainability.
Feature photo: Dr. Grace Armah-Agyeman shows SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson around a campus greenhouse.