Penn State

Penn State creates certificate program in ag stewardship and conservation

Penn State is launching a new certificate program as part of a larger effort to address issues related to the Chesapeake Bay.

The Agricultural Stewardship and Conservation Certificate, an undergraduate program offered through the College of Agricultural Sciences’ environmental resources management program, is designed to show that students are trained in conservation planning and understand the types of best management practices that are needed for different types of farms, said Robert Shannon, the certificate program’s coordinator.

The certificate “fits in perfectly with Penn State’s land-grant mission of providing service to the commonwealth,” said Shannon, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering and coordinator of ERM.

The Environmental Protection Agency is pushing Pennsylvania to meet its mandated requirements for reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, he said.

It’s clear that the state is not going to meet its 2017 reduction goals, Shannon said, so the EPA is ratcheting up pressure on Pennsylvania to meet 2025 reduction goals.

Pennsylvania, in turn, is ramping up its enforcement program to make sure all farmers have conservation or agricultural erosion and sediment control plans and that those plans are ultimately implemented, he said. Farms with animals that generate manure will also need manure management plans.

The certificate program idea grew out of the Pennsylvania in the Balance conference held in October, Shannon said, which brought together conservation partners from across the state, such as representatives from the state departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection, State Conservation Commission and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, among others.

“One of the primary initiatives that came out of this conference is that there’s a need for more conservation training and personnel out there to write plans and design best management practices on farms,” Shannon said.

Penn State already offered classes that could be put together into a certificate program that would signify that students are trained in the area and ready to go on to positions in conservation districts, state agencies or private sector consulting firms, he said.

Students will take 11 to 14 credits to obtain the certificate, he said.

An important requirement of the certificate program, Shannon said, is the independent study or internship so that students can get hands-on experience in the field.

The certificate is even available to students in a wide variety of majors, he said. The ideal future scenario is to offer all the courses in the certificate program online.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz