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New WSU Ag Degree, Organic Major Approved

Publication: Washington State University
Published: 07/17/06

Washington State University has received approval from the state Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Agriculture and Food Systems starting this fall.

Five majors will be offered, including the nation’s first major in organic agriculture systems.

The new interdisciplinary degree will integrate coursework from all agricultural disciplines in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. It will replace eliminated undergraduate degrees in General Agriculture, Agricultural Technology and Management, Entomology and Biological Systems Engineering as well as an Integrated Cropping Systems degree at WSU Tri-Cities.

“We have changed our agricultural program to meet the demands of employers for well-rounded graduates who have critical thinking, communications and leadership skills as well as strong technical skills,” said Ray Folwell, associate dean and director of academic programs in the college.

Folwell said non-agricultural degrees in the college will not be affected. Students in affected programs will be able to complete the degree they started.

Students will be able to select from five majors, including a first-in- the nation organic agriculture major. The others are Agricultural Business and Technology Systems, Agricultural Education, Pest Management Systems and Plants and Soil Systems.

“In each major, emphasis is placed on gaining a solid background in the agricultural sciences, including how to work with and in the complexity of agriculture and food systems,” said Cathy Perillo, coordinator of the new degree program. “All students will take a core set of classes to develop a broad interdisciplinary background, while also studying specific subjects that will prepare them for their chosen fields.”

An internship related to the student’s major will be required, as well as a seminar class in delivering technical presentations to a diverse audience.

The new Organic Agriculture Systems major is expected to appeal not only to aspiring organic farmers but also to people interested in related industries, such as global marketing, direct marketing or organic food, according to Perillo.

“There’s quite a bit of industry interest in the new degree, too,” Perillo said. “Large corporations increasingly are interested in meeting the nation’s growing appetite for organic foods are seeking employees who understand organic agriculture systems, which are significantly different than conventional agriculture.”

The major includes a summer practicum at WSU’s three-acre organic farm on the east edge of campus. There, students will get hands-on experience in planting, nurturing, harvesting and marketing organic produce.

Organic food is one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture with retail sales escalating 20 percent annually since 1990, according to a 2002 U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

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