UK agricultural education goes global

It blows your mind to see things like black pepper or cloves planted in the shade of teak trees, with a patch of cassava and corn right next to it. Even the rice fields have ducks eating pests like snails, or sheep grazing on the terraces,” said Krista Jacobsen, UK College of Agriculture assistant professor. This diversity and “fascinating web of organisms woven together” was what Jacobsen and other UK ag faculty saw as they toured farms in Indonesia this summer, part of a new program in the College of Agriculture.

UK College of Agriculture’s ties with Indonesia go back to the 1950s, when the late Professor Howard Beers promoted student-faculty exchanges. Now those connections are being strengthened, part of an effort to ensure that UK’s agriculture students learn about global agriculture.

Agriculture and the food industry are highly globalized, with American companies buying, selling and producing crops in many other countries. That trend also involves Kentucky.

“About one third of the state’s agricultural production is exported,” said College of Agriculture Dean M. Scott Smith. “Despite losing rough $1 billion of tobacco and equine sales [over the last decade], farm gate receipts have increased by about $2 billion.”

Another reason for UK’s agricultural students to take an international focus is their own financial security. U.S. students who learn about agriculture on a worldwide scale are much better prepared for the job market.

“Industry is not getting enough people with both understanding about and skills in the global economy,” said Keiko Tanaka, a UK agriculture associate professor who also serves as director of the UK Asia Center.

“The more we can prepare future students of agriculture to be global citizens who understand the common problems that exist in a different context, the better future problem-solvers they are going to be,” Jacobsen said.

Working with other UK agriculture professors, Tanaka has developed a three-year project on global agriculture and food. UK faculty members involved with the project include Mark Williams (horticulture), Kris Ricketts (community and leadership development), and Carol Hanley (cooperative extension).

Five other College of Agriculture faculty members each developed a relevant online learning module.

Their diverse topics included: Regulations and Certification in International Trade (Michael Reed, agriculture economics); sustainable agriculture and resource management (Krista Jacobsen, horticulture); world hunger and food justice (Janet Tietyen Mullins, nutrition and food sciences); local community development (Alison Davis, agricultural economics); and food safety and health (Michael Goodin, plant pathology).

In the project’s just-ended second year, those faculty members have incorporated their modules into a professional development program. It’s designed for agricultural education teachers and community agricultural educators such as Tracy Poff and Rebecca Russell.

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