UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A newly relaunched Penn State Extension online course, titled “Ag 101,” covers the basics of agriculture — including crops, livestock and natural resources — common to Pennsylvania and other mid-Atlantic and Northeast states.
“Each field has a different language, and in agriculture, there are expectations for how to conduct yourself on the farm,” said Nicole Santangelo Thompson, field and forage crops team leader and agronomy extension educator, who helped create the course. “Increasingly, people are hired to support agriculture who may not have much experience in it.”
The course is designed for conservation professionals and others who interact with farms. These specialists often help farmers with soil and water conservation practices, such as planting riparian buffers or writing manure management plans.
Thompson noted that the course succinctly brings together different pieces of agriculture to prepare someone for a first visit to a farm.
Jennifer Fetter, water resources extension educator and team leader, co-designed the course.
“The idea is to help our environmental and conservation professionals put themselves in the shoes of the agricultural community before they go out and work with that community,” Fetter said.
For example, knowing the right time of year to visit farms is crucial, Fetter explained. Farmers are especially busy during harvesting, planting and calving seasons.
This course updates the technology and format of the original “Ag 101,” a widely used webinar series developed a decade ago with support from the Pennsylvania office of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“The NRCS is a great partner,” Fetter said. “They continue to have all their new employees watch the series to better understand agriculture in Pennsylvania before working with the agricultural community.”
As an environmentally oriented organization rooted in agriculture, Penn State Extension is well-positioned to help provide this education, Fetter pointed out.
To upgrade the curriculum, Thompson dove into 10 years of reviews from prior participants. Extension educators from across the agricultural spectrum contributed expertise on course topics ranging from livestock and agronomy to forestry and fruits and vegetables.
“Participants can expect to not only learn about agriculture but meet extension professionals from across the state who work in these different areas,” Thompson said.
In the course, these experts discuss common types of farms, farm implements and terminology, and the use of natural resources in farming. Participants can learn about best practices in biosecurity and integrated pest management.
“To be effective in the agricultural community, conservation professionals must be literate in agricultural practices, terminology, facilities and basic skills such as biosecurity,” Fetter said.
She noted that highly pathogenic avian influenza has devastated many Pennsylvania farms this year, amplifying the need for biosecurity.
“People can carry diseases on their gear, boots and car tires,” she said. “Farm consultants and environmental professionals sometimes visit multiple farms in a day. They are easily the most likely carriers of disease from one farm to the next, and they need to be prepared to clean their tires, check their gear and wear boot covers.”
Fetter said the course also is useful outside of Pennsylvania. “Our agriculture in Pennsylvania is very similar to other mid-Atlantic states, such as parts of Ohio, New York, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey.”
While written with the conservation professional in mind, the course could benefit anyone wanting a deeper understanding of agriculture in Pennsylvania, Fetter noted.
The self-paced program uses educational videos and knowledge-check questions and takes approximately 11 hours to complete. Registrants will gain access to the course for 365 days from the date the course is started. The registration fee is $119.
“We are grateful to the NRCS for helping us launch the original course and for giving us the blessing to update it with new topics,” Fetter said. “Agriculture is an evolving science, just like any science, and we want to make sure our message is evolving with it.”
She suggested that previous participants may find it beneficial to take the course again to refresh themselves and stay up to date on the field.
More information is available on the Penn State Extension website at https://extension.psu.edu/
–Alexandra McLaughlin, Penn State University