Yesterday I had a wonderfully informative (and formative) meeting with Andy Radin, the new (relatively…one + year) Cooperative Extension person at URI.
We shared thoughts on agricultural education in Rhode Island. Some of the themes were:
1) The need for soils and soil fertility education. Many of the new small farmers in the State have scarce local educational resources to be analytical and scientific (add knowledge) to their farming practices. The Internet and modern communications/media devices make information much more readily available – therefore, young literate farmers can find enormous amounts of on-line advice. Vetting that information, however, becomes much more difficult – particularly when there is limited agricultural staffing at the University and Division of Agriculture.
2) The need for more research and trials with small farmers. Small farmers in the State are well-suited to develop new research outreach and trials programs. This kind of effort would enhance local practice as well as inform the University in agricultural outreach efforts.
3) The need for better incentives to create environmental benefits. Small farmers currently have a difficult economy and that economy does not provide much capital for them to enhance their operations. Since many of these small farmers are already practicing with sustainable methods that accrue environmental benefits, one of the simplest ways to give them ‘another source of revenue’ is to pay them for their conservation and environmental improvement practices. ( Note: This I add, we did not discuss)
4) The need for an agricultural education curriculum. Even as a guide to practice (if it cannot be implemented by the University), the State needs an educational methodology to guide new and expanded growing and livestock raising in a manner appropriate for the State’s agro-ecology.