WASHINGTON D.C. – The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is partnering with Richland Community College and eight Midwest community colleges to support hands-on student learning in the field, to develop future conservation-minded farmers and ranchers, and to cultivate more graduates interested in pursuing careers with NRCS.

On Monday, representatives of the Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancement (C2A3) and NRCS held a virtual ceremony to formally sign a national memorandum of understanding to develop a cooperative framework to enhance and accelerate training and adoption of technologies and best practices for improved agricultural productivity and natural resources stewardship.

“Community colleges educate nearly half of all undergraduate students in this country and yet, our agriculture programs have been an under-utilized resource within USDA,” said Dr. Tracy Kruse, C2A3 board chair. “A majority of our students are the producers in fields. They are technicians in our local co-ops and implement dealers; and they are our agronomy and seed sales professionals. Through these efforts, we hope more of them will also become the soil health specialists and conservationists for local NRCS offices.”

All C2A3 member institutions, including Richland Community College, have college farms and are able to utilize their land resources for the implementation of conservation practices on the ground to help educate and inform students and producers. The goal of the cooperative agreement between the entities is to not only accelerate the adoption of conservation practices through the education of current, two-year agriculture students, but to also disseminate information to the broader community through field days and other college events and partnerships.

In addition, the colleges are utilizing the network to share resources, knowledge and expertise. Collectively, they are working on a grant through USDA’s North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which seeks to increase awareness, knowledge and skills related to soil health, cover crops and no till agriculture. The development of content such as videos and case studies for the classroom is a critical component to help illustrate concepts of profitability, sustainability and productivity. These assets will be shared across the network for the benefit of all member institutions.

“Through this partnership, NRCS and the member institutions are also developing local plans to address regional and statewide challenges as well as support student internships and other training opportunities for college faculty, NRCS employees and producers,” said Jess Smithers, Director of Agricultural Programs at Richland. “This MOU provides the necessary framework to work together on common needs from a national perspective, while also providing the flexibility to address local concerns.”

The C2A3 collaboration was born out of a mutual desire to provide more ongoing education, training and demonstration projects to future farm producers and agricultural service providers with the goal of improving the health, and therefore the long-term productivity, resilience and sustainability of the soil.

“We hope that this pilot will grow over time to include more partners and more institutions,” said Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief of programs for NRCS. “The more successful we are, the more likely we are to drive further innovation and adoption of practices and impact the long-term sustainability of our nation’s resources.”

In addition to Richland Community College, C2A3 member institutions include Central Lakes College (Staples, MN), Clark State Community College (Springfield, Ohio), Illinois Central College (Peoria, IL), Ivy Tech Community College (Lafayette, IN), Northcentral Technical College (Wausau, WI), Northeast Community College (Norfolk,NE), Northeast Iowa Community College (Calmar, Iowa), North Dakota State College of Science (Wahpeton, ND) and Richland Community College (Decatur, IL).

For more information about C2A3, visit the organization’s website at agalliance.net.

The mission of Richland Community College is to empower individuals through learning and to forge partnerships that grow communities. For more information, visit www.richland.edu

The Richland Community College Agriculture program is comprised of an Associate in Arts (transfer degree) and Associate in Applied Science degrees in Agribusiness, Crop Science, and Horticulture.  Richland’s campus includes 100+ acres of farmland, we are the host of the Farm Progress Show every other year, and we are located in the Agribusiness capital of the world, all which help enable the agriculture program to meet our mission of exposing, preparing, and connecting students to careers in Agriculture.