Clemson, N.C. State develop sustainable agriculture curriculum

While many college football fans were focused on the football matchup between the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the Clemson Tigers, researchers from the two institutions were working together off the playing field to develop a college-level sustainable agriculture curriculum that is used in conjunction with university teaching farms.

Its purpose is to educate the next generation of farmers, researchers, extension personnel and other agriculture service providers in sustainable agriculture concepts and practices.

The curriculum includes 15 lessons on topics including soil biology and fertility, sustainable pest management and making use of nature’s services to reduce the need for off-farm inputs like fertilizers and pesticides. The curriculum lessons and activities are being pilot-tested at Clemson, N.C. State and several other institutions around the country.

“Each lesson includes several on-farm activities where students gain hands-on experience with sustainable agriculture and higher-order thinking skills,” said Geoff Zehnder, professor and sustainable agriculture program leader in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences at Clemson. “Students are working cooperatively in groups and the curriculum is designed to encourage critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills through cooperation and reflection.”

The average age of farmers in the U.S. is 57 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And 83 percent of all U.S. farmers are between the ages of 45 and 75 and just 8 are under the age of 35.

“American agriculture is moving toward reduced inputs and lowered costs, more efficient use of resources and less negative impacts on the environment,” said Zehnder. “And fewer young people choose farming as a profession today.”

The growth of more sustainable farms requires comprehensive training for farmers, researchers and service providers in the principles and practices of sustainable agriculture.

Zehnder said, “Land-grant universities, like Clemson and N.C. State, play an integral role in educating future farmers by developing the capacity to manage and provide services and offer curriculum that focus on sustainability.” is dedicated to serving the agricultural industry in the Carolinas and Virginia with the latest ag news, exclusive regional weather station readings, and key crop market information. The website is a companion of the Southern Farm Network, provider of daily agricultural radio programming to the Carolinas since 1974. presents radio programs, interviews and news relevant to crop and livestock production and research throughout the mid-Atlantic agricultural community.