June 2-5, SCCC is hosting the Sustainable Agriculture Resources Summer Academy for high school students
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
It is estimated that the world’s population will be about 9 billion by the year 2050, and with a current population of around 3 billion less than that, though not yet at drastic measures, natural resources could soon be there.
A new study area at Seward County Community College is helping agriculture students at the school learn how to better manage and maintain a healthy level of resources for future generations.
This summer, over a four-day period, local and area high school students interested in a future in agriculture get a glimpse into the college’s Sustainable Agriculture Resources program.
June 2-5, SCCC is hosting the Sustainable Agriculture Resources Summer Academy for high school students freshmen through senior.
Erin Russell, a specialist with the SAR program, said anyone who has an interest in agriculture is welcome to come.
“It’s $100 if they sign up before May 15,” she said. “It goes up to $130 after that date.”
Russell said some of what the academy will focus on is soil conservation and water and air quality.
“We’re going to take some tours of some research facilities,” she said. “I’ve got the assistant PhD for the agronomy department at K-State. She’s going to be co-teaching with me.”
Academy participants come in on Monday morning, June 2, to sign up, and they will live in the college’s dorms through Thursday, June 5.
“On the last day, we’ll bring everybody back into a room to do presentations for people in the community who want to come and see what they’ve learned,” Russell said.
The specialist added young people will also have plenty of hands on projects to do during the nearly weeklong academy.
“We’ll be doing soil samples and water samples,” she said. “We’ll be working in the greenhouses some. We have a test plot out here.”
Another part of the academy will have participants working on the test plot, with half of it being used for a cover crop. This will allow them, Russell said, to see how much moisture and nitrogen are being put back into the soil through the crop.
Many schools in the area have FFA programs, and those that do not most likely have a 4-H program for those students interested in agriculture. Russel lsaid the academy is another tool to help spark interests in the industry.
“This is in attempt to try to get students in the community who don’t know about agriculture who are interested in ag to kind of get acquainted with what sustainability in agriculture is,” she said.
While the word “sustainable” is new to the ag industry, Russell said being sustainable in farming has been around since the beginning of time.
“Sustainability is leaving things better for our future generations,” she said.
Russell said with the world population growing exponentially, having resources for future generations is something that is of the upmost importance.
“We’ve got to find ways to make our resources last as long as they can without exhausting them,” she said.
Dry conditions currently persisting in the plains make much of what students learn both in the academy and in SCCC’s sustainable ag program likewise necessary, according to Russell.
“With us being in a drought, water is essential out here,” she said. “Any way possible that we can conserve our water usage is so important.”
Many people have compared the current drought to that of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and Russell said the conditions of both eras are quite similar.
“If you look at history during the Dust Bowl and history now, we’ve had just as little, if not less, rainfall than they had during the Dust Bowl,” she said. “The only thing that saved us from being back in that situation is the conservation practices that have happened as a result of the Dust Bowl.”
Russell said sustainability in agriculture simply boils down to being more mindful of resources.
“It touches on integrated pest management as an option for pest control,” she said. “It talks about crop rotation for controlling any vector that’s going to cause damage to your crop. It’s just really being very mindful of your soil and your crop health.”
With farmers and ranchers using the land as the source of their living, Russell said producers need to make an attempt to stay up with practices that will benefit future land use, and she would like to provide a hand in helping that happen.
“What I really want to do with this program in the future is start to work side by side with producers and see what needs to be done in this area to make things sustainable to make what resources we have here stretch out as long as they can,” she said.
Russell said sustainability is a hot topic right now in agriculture, and the subject can be taught in several ways.
“You can really take off with sustainability in agriculture in which direction you want,” she said. “My opinion is you focus on how it’s going to impact your area the best. For Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, we have been talking about soil conservation, water conservation, environmental quality. That’s more pertinent to this part of this world.”
SCCC’s sustainable ag program is financed through a grant, and Russell said the grant is now in its third of five years. She likes what she has seen so far.
“It’s been exciting to be able to develop this and build it up from the ground and run with it,” she said.
Russell likewise hopes that this summer’s academy will mean new ag students at the college.
“The ultimate goal would be to see what we have to offer here at the college and have an interest in what we’re trying to do,” she said.
Sustainability in agriculture is currently offered as a major at SCCC, and Russell said what students do after they earn their degree is totally up to them.
“We offer sustainability in agriculture as an associates in science and an associates in applied science, so students have the option to either go back in the work force after they finish or they can transfer on to a university,” she said.
For more information on the academy and an application form, contact Russell at 620-417-1365, or e-mail