LINCOLN, Neb. -- The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is set to begin only the second program in the country that will offer a doctor of plant health degree.

The Professional Program in Plant Health has been given final approval to begin in 2009. Gary Hein, who has served as professor of entomology at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, will be program director.

"It's comparable to the doctor of veterinary medicine program for animals and doctor of public health for humans, only it's for plants," Hein said. "It will involve intensive course work but also intensive practicum or internship training."

The University of Florida is the only other U.S. university with a similar program.

The program will be different from other graduate programs in the plant sciences that lead to a master's or Ph.D degree in that this program will train practitioners rather than researchers, Hein said.

Students will be broadly trained in areas of entomology, agronomy and horticulture, plant pathology and soil science. Hein expects most students entering the program will have undergraduate degrees in those areas, although an undergraduate degree in most areas of science would be acceptable to get into the program.

The program, which Hein expects will take three to four years to complete, will prepare students for a variety of jobs, including those in plant health industries, crop consulting, extension education and some state and federal agencies. The graduates likely will be highly sought after in agricultural industries, he said.

The program has support from the agricultural industry, which has been asking for it for some time, Hein said.

Anne Vidaver, professor of plant pathology who has been leading the effort to start the program, said the industry and government have assured UNL that jobs will be available for those who complete the program.

The National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants, of which Lincoln crop consultant Earle Raun is a member, strongly supported the program, Raun said. Several in the organization wrote letters of support to get the program started.

Support from the agricultural industry was key, Hein said. The support should help provide funding that can be used to support student scholarships and assistantships, provide internship training opportunities, and make jobs available for program graduates.

"We are extremely pleased to be able to offer this new program, one of only two in the nation," said CASNR Dean Steve Waller. "It is an excellent example of a public/private partnership with the industry and the university working together to provide a curriculum that meets the needs of future professionals."

SOURCE: University of Nebraska.