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 Agricultural Science and Policy II  posted by  member7_php   on 3/4/2009  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Agricultural Science and Policy II

Spring 2007

Student Learning about Swine Production in ASP II Lab at Tufts Veterinary School. (Image courtesy of Kathleen Merrigan. Ph.D.)

Highlights of this Course

Highlights of this course include:

    * Major biological, chemical, and physical components of the agricultural systems
    * The scientific basis for understanding these systems and their management
    * How science has influenced policies related to agriculture, food safety, and the environment in the United States
    * How the policies have evolved over time in the US
    * What has worked and what has not; the reasons and the consequences
    * What other factors influence policies beyond science
    * How we link what we learn to ecological agriculture
    * How we use what we learn for policy analysis

Course Description

This course, semester two of a year long course, highlights the relevance of natural resource conservation for ensuring healthy agricultural, food and environmental systems, as well as the various approaches for implementing it. The course focuses on plant-pest interaction, crop breeding, plant nutrients, and livestock production. Topics covered during the first semester are soils, water, air and energy.

Classroom discussions and debates explore the present status of natural resources and their management practices in the context of scientific evidence and policy making. These are complemented with  work in field laboratories and trips to research stations and farms.  This leads to improved understanding of the scientific concepts and provides additional exposure to the forces driving American agriculture.

Popular Content

    * Final Paper: Hog Farming in Sioux County, Iowa 1974-2002 [PDF - 922KB]
    * Lecture 11: Plant Nutrients - Fertilizer History and Technology
    * Lecture 12: Plant Nutrients - Environmental Impacts
    * Livestock
    * Lecture 2: Plant Pest Interaction - History and Overview



    * To understand the scientific underpinnings of policy issues related to plant- pest interaction, crop breeding, plant nutrients, and livestock production, especially those involving the environment.
    * To apply this understanding to the analysis of current controversies and debates regarding these issues.


There will be four quizzes pertaining to the units covered during each of the semesters, with every quiz accounting for 12.5 percent of the grade. The assignment involving policy analysis and class presentation counts for the remaining 50 percent.

FInal Assignment

Using Census of Agriculture, other USDA statistical data, and descriptive materials (respectively contemporary or historical), construct the following:

   1. Farm 1: a "typical" farm representing a major farm type in a particular region.
   2. Farm 2: a typical farm from 30 years ago that might plausibly have evolved into Farm 1.
   3. Farm 3: a contemporary "alternative" approach to producing comparable products as Farm 1 in the same region, such as rotational grazing vs. confined dairying; pastured poultry vs. modern broiler houses, or organic vs. conventional vegetable production. (Many others are possible, but check with us first.)

Compare these three farms with respect to the following:

   1. Differences in production methods and farm structure
   2. Differences in environmental impacts, especially those discussed this semester
   3. The role (intentional or unintentional) of governmental policies and programs in stimulating the changes observed over the past 30 years, and in influencing the relative attractiveness to mainstream farmers and the "alternative" approaches of today


   1. It will not be possible to construct Farms 1 and 2 to be exactly representative of the "typical" farm of a particular type. For your quantitative variables, start with the Census, but be prepared to make plausible assumptions to come up with what the Census doesn't provide. For example, ideally you would want to use data broken down by type of farm and county (the latter especially for a very heterogeneous state), but the Census doesn't offer that breakdown. Therefore you might have to choose between county-level data for all farm types, or state-level data for a particular farm type. Carefully think through which choice is more appropriate, depending on how the farm characteristics vary by location and farm type. You can minimize the errors by using the available data skillfully. For example, if you can find a county where 80% of the farms are of one type, you will not be far off if you use the "all farms" data as representing that type.
   2. Most of the 2002 Census is supposed to come out spring 2004. If it is available in time, use it, otherwise use the 1997 version.
   3. For Farm 3 the Census is not likely to be of much help; you will have to rely on less systematic sources, both descriptive and quantitative to the extent the latter are available.
   4. Farms 1 and 2 might or might not raise the same products depending on how agriculture has evolved in your particular area (e.g., a mixed crop-livestock farm in Iowa in 1974 might be a cash grain farm today). The point is that Farm 2 might reasonably have turned into Farm 1 over that period. Similarly, Farm 1 might be bigger than Farm 2, but only to the extent that such farms in that area typically expanded in that period. Don't compare a 1974 market garden to a 2002 commercial vegetable operation. You could, however, compare a 1974-style commercial vegetable operation to a 2002 version.
   5. In contrast, Farm 3 should be representative of farms actually using the alternative approach to raising products similar to those of Farm 1. Thus it is not necessarily a transformed version of Farm 1. It might be a very different-looking kind of farm (e.g., much smaller or on very different land). Unlike the comparison between Farms 1 and 2, one need not be able to imagine Farm 1 as evolving into Farm 3.

Session   Type Title  
1 Lecture Overview  
2 Lecture Plant Pest Interaction - History and Overview; Basic Chemistry of Pesticides  
3 Lecture Plant Pest Interaction - Regulatory System  
4 Lecture Plant Pest Interaction - Problems and Alteratives to Pesticides  
5 Lecture Plant Pest Interaction - Pesticide Controversies  
6 Lecture Plant Pest Interaction - Economics of Pesticide Use  
7 Lecture Crop Breeding - Conventional Breeding  
8 Lecture Crop Breeding - GMOs: Technology and Regulation  
9 Lecture Crop Breeding - Markets, Perceptions, Politics, and Intellectual Property Rights  
10 Lecture Crop Breeding - Genetics Diversity  
11 Lecture Plant Nutrients - Fertilizer History and Technology  
12 Lecture Plant Nutrients - Environmental Impacts; Nitrogen Cycle  
13 Lecture Plant Nutrients - Manures and Other Alternative Nutrient Resources  
14 Lecture Plant Nutrients - Safety and Health Consequences  
15 Lecture Plant Nutrients - Fertilizer Economics; Yield Response  
16 Lecture Plant Nutrients - Rethinking the Green Revolution  
17 Lecture Livestock - Conventional Production Systems  
18 Lecture Livestock - Global Meat Trade, Mad Cow, Country-of-Origin Labeling  
19 Lecture Livestock - Health Issues  
20 Lecture Livestock - Alternative Livestock Production Systems  
21 Lecture Livestock - Animal Health and Welfare  
22 Lecture Livestock - Contracting and Consolidation  
23 Lecture Livestock - In the News  
24 Lecture Wrap-Up Session: Organic Systems  
25 Lecture Class Presentation  
26 Lecture Class Presentation   Tell A Friend