Wednesday, November 15, 2006 - 3:35 PM

Learning Systems for Research, Education, and Practice in Sustainable Agriculture.

Donald Vietor, Clyde Munster, Richard White, Tony Provin, and Curtis Lard. Texas A&M Univ, Soil & Crop Sciences Dept, College Station, TX 77843-2474

The challenges of integrating production, social, and economic information for a sustainable agriculture were a recurring theme in ASA Division A-8 sessions and other professional venues over the past two decades. Systems theory and practice and policy analysis frameworks were proposed and evaluated to address these challenges in research, education, and management. Yet, the search continues for methodologies that enable stakeholders representing diverse worldviews to agree on purposeful change and on what is sustainable. A brief history of three case studies illustrates challenges and learning systems that emerged over 20 yr of interdisciplinary efforts to improve education and practice for a sustainable agriculture. During the late 80’s, Federal support, strong leadership, experiential learning theory, and a hierarchal systems methodology enabled an interdisciplinary team of faculty to develop curriculum materials for agriculture. During the 90’s, Drs. Amy Thurow and Charlie Abdalla organized an interdisciplinary team of agricultural faculty to develop methodologies for, “Sustaining Animal Agriculture and Environmental Quality.” The team evaluated existing models for analysis of agricultural policy and ethics, which led to synthesis of a qualitative model of relationships between production decisions and market-based economic factors and nonmarket social factors. More recently, the importance of entrepreneurial leadership, risk-taking, and action was evident during development and evaluation of systems for mitigating environmental impacts of animal agriculture in Texas and Virginia. An interdisciplinary learning system of research and extension faculty, regulatory agencies, and livestock and turfgrass producers developed systems and evaluated relationships among production, economic, and regulatory information. The three case studies illustrate the challenges and opportunities for interdisciplinary learning systems that evaluate and integrate production, economic, and social factors.