Universities lag on organics

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "A New Green Revolution."

David Oien of Timeless Seeds has an immediate reaction when asked if the soils and agriculture departments at state universities have been helpful to organic farmers: "No!"

"But then again, the average (conventional) wheat farmer would say the same thing," he says. "Institutions are behind the curve. It’s not their job to lead. Their job is research.

"They are very sensitive to politics," he adds. "That’s what happens when you have an institution that has to beg the Legislature for money."

While the Legislature provides some funding, companies such as Dow, Syngenta and Monsanto fund most of the agricultural research that is done at land-grant universities. These companies aren’t interested in alternative farming methods.

"I’ve had letters to my dean asking for my resignation," says Bruce Maxwell, a Montana State University weed ecologist who is currently leading a study comparing organic and conventional grain production. "They (people in the industry) said I had no business promoting organic agriculture. They’re threatened by it. And they should be."

Organic agriculture offers farmers a way out from under the companies that profit from industrial farming methods. So perhaps it’s no surprise that, according to the Santa Cruz-based Organic Farming Research Foundation, only about 450 of the 885,863 available research acres in the land-grant system are devoted to certified organic research. Nor is it surprising that no land-grant colleges offer an undergraduate degree in organic agriculture.

Montana State has done a better job than most, according to Perry Miller, an associate professor there who specializes in diversified cropping systems. In 2005, Miller and his colleagues received a $471,111 USDA grant to study dryland organic crop agriculture, including crop rotation and how to best control weeds. The university has also dedicated five acres of its main research facility in Bozeman to organic production.

"Don’t underestimate that development," says Miller. "The department took that five acres away from someone else and gave to us. That’s a good sign." MSU currently offers no classes focusing on organic or alternative agriculture, however.

"We need those classes," says Robert Boettcher, a longtime organic farmer from Big Sandy. "There’s a lot of misinformation out there on organic agriculture. They think it’s a bunch of hippies, part of the 1960s. It isn’t that anymore. We can talk ’til we’re blue in the face, but doing it at a land grant (university) gives us credibility."

Ultimately, it may be the students who decide whether organics become a part of the university curriculum. "One of the few areas we’re seeing intense student interest is in sustainable and organic agriculture," says Miller. "We need to serve those students."

High Country News Classifieds
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • WRITING PLACE: THE ANIMAS RIVER REGION WRITING WORKSHOP
    REGISTER ONLINE BY: Friday, June 15 WHERE: Durango, CO (location TBD) WHEN: Monday, July 16 Youth workshop: 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. (18 and under,...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: