Raising funds for plant health students

The University of Nebraska has finally moved ahead with establishing its Professional Program in Plant Health to earn an advanced degree in plant health. The first class of students is being accepted for enrollment to begin classes this coming fall semester at the Lincoln campus of the university. It took a lot of work by many individuals and organizations to gain approval for the program from the state university system board of governors.

The program will train students for stepping into positions that previously required a degree and several years of practical experience to have the basis for making recommendations and decisions. The goal is to produce trained individuals ready to work outside of research laboratories because they have practical real-world experience and on-the-job training.

"The program is different from other graduate programs in the plant sciences that lead to a master's or Ph.D. degree because this program is training practitioners rather than researchers," said Gary Hein, Ph.D., program director for the new program.

Graduates of the program will be well trained to jump into jobs related to plant health industries, crop consulting, Extension education or state and federal agencies, Hein suggested.

The Foundation for Environmental Agricultural Education, which was founded by the National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants, strongly encouraged and supported establishment of the new degree program. FEAE has committed to some level of financial support for the program, starting with fellowships made possible from BASF and Syngenta grant money.

The financial commitment has resulted in a sense of urgency by those on the FEAE board for raising more funds than in recent years. The board plans to continue supporting the only other advanced education similar to this new one-the University of Florida doctorate of Plant Medicine. As for me, I've been pulled aboard to see what I might lend to communicating about the fund raising.

All possible assistance from the agricultural industry is going to be appreciated, Hein noted. Funding to allow a sufficient number of students to enroll was identified as a concern during discussions in establishing such a new program.

"The students will be responsible for their own support in this program," he said. "This is unlike most Master's and doctorate programs that support students through research assistantships." Industry financial support has to be established in various ways - student scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, internships and finally jobs for eventual graduates.

The university is now taking applications from undergraduates. Bachelor of Science graduates with degrees in areas related to entomology, agronomy, horticulture, plant pathology and soil science are the most likely to fit into the program, although acceptance will not be limited to these degree-holders.

I suggest anyone interested in supporting the program and FEAE's efforts contact Don Jameson, president of the FEAE board; djameson@agrimgt.com; or Linda Kraft, executive director; kraft consulting@charter.net.

The FEAE and NAICC see the program filling a need for highly educated crop consultants and research consultants thoroughly trained in aspects of precision agriculture. The more complicated farming becomes the more that crop consultants will be assisting.

Joe's Column: You'll notice that Joe Prochaska's article is not inside the back cover of this issue. Joe has taken a leave of absence in writing the column but plans to be writing for AgProfessional in the future. Until then, Mark Faust and John Heeney's sales and marketing column will occupy the space.