Organic agriculture degree could be first in nation

Washington State University could become the first institution in the U.S. to offer a bachelor of science degree in organic gardening.

Tom Lumpkin, department chairman of the crop and soil sciences division of the WSU College of Agriculture, says the school is in the preliminary stages of determining whether such a program would be practical.

Despite initial concern from the conventional agriculture community, Lumpkin says an organic agriculture program can enhance what the school already offers and draw in needed students.

“This spring semester we’ve offered a course on organic gardening and farming for the first time,” Lumpkin said.

“Whenever we discuss the idea of a bachelor of science degree in organic agriculture, we normally are greeted with enthusiasm from just about everyone, once the background is explained.”

However, when Lumpkin announced the school’s intentions at a recent growers’ meeting, listeners feared the school might go off on a tangent and leave conventional farmers in the lurch.

“Once I explained it, audiences understood that we need more students,” Lumpkin said. And they appreciate that some new biotechnologies we are developing can benefit both organic and conventional agriculture, making all agriculture less dependent on chemicals.”

The school already offers courses, such as integrated pest management, that use organic principles. A degree program would supplement existing courses and build on the school’s current research in wheat breeding, soil, and weed sciences,” Lumpkin said.

Attracting more students is crucial to the college, where there have been declining numbers in traditional agriculture sciences for several years.

“If we improve our student numbers it enables us to hold on to our faculty, and if we don’t improve our program, Olympia is going to tell us we need to downsize,” Lumpkin commented.

WSU will review the proposal throughout the summer, and if it becomes a reality, the first courses would open for the spring or fall semesters of 2003.

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