HUNTINGTON — The Marshall University College of Science has begun enrolling students in a new undergraduate major in specialty agriculture, which prepares them for the field of sustainable, high-yield agriculture suitable for mountainous regions and small land areas.
The major focuses on the agricultural aspects of greenhouse production, hydroponics, precision farming, urban agriculture, community gardens and specialty crop production. It also explores new and emerging technological advances for improving yield, as well as business and marketing practices supporting the small farmer.
The major in specialty agriculture provides plenty of educational opportunities for students to develop expertise in both traditional and sustainable agricultural sciences. Marshall’s specialty agriculture faculty members collaborate with local and regional agriculture enterprises and educational institutions, as well as the Marshall University Sustainability Department, to offer students hands-on experiences and to build relationships with field experts with a wide range of expertise.
“This is a growing field due to an increasing environmental awareness of the need for sustainable agriculture. Add to that the nutritional benefits of local products, and smaller farms are positioned to become a growing powerhouse nationally,” said Dr. Mindy Armstead, chair of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, in which the new major will be offered, in a news release. “Technological advances, coupled with developments in marketing techniques, make small area/high-yield farming economically feasible, which is good news in mountainous regions like West Virginia. As our economy transitions from resource extraction to self-sustaining resource production, specialty agriculture offers prospective majors a range of unique and timely career options.”
Good candidates for the new major include those who care about sustainability, enjoy the outdoors and working with their hands, or want to create a quality agricultural products. Graduates will be able to pursue a wide range of advanced career paths, including agribusiness, agritourism, animal production, extension education and outreach, food science, forestry, horticulture and crop production, nutrient management, soil health and conservation.
Hydroponic and greenhouse growers are supplying restaurants and grocery stores locally and in nearby cities. Grower co-ops and produce brokers are also increasing sales opportunities for small farms. Graduates with knowledge of technological advances and traditional practices are needed to support this growing market.