Secondary Agricultural Teachers Need College Level

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Secondary Agricultural Teachers Need College Level Instruction on Sustainable Agriculture
Ben F. Shaw, Jr. and James P. Key

Implications For Higher Education
While this study was concerned primarily with teachers of secondary agricultural education, there are implications for university and college preparation offulure agriculturalists and teachers. Findings revealed that many teachers view sustainable agriculture to be an important aspect of the agricultural industry and a necessary part of an education revolving around this industry. This being the case, post-secondary agricultural curriculum components dealing with sustainable agriculture should be developed. This will provide fiture teachers andpractitioners with information upon which to base decisions concerning the inclusion of sustainable agriculture aspects in agribusiness operations as well as agricultural education teaching material. Furthermore, colleges and universities should take the lead in developing and implementing in-service and training programs on sustainableagriculturefor teachers andpractitioners presently in the field. As educators, we have an obligation to prepare students to think critically abour the various concepts of agriculture and make infonned decisions concerning thefulure of the industry. Ifthis task is to be accomplished, education in and about agriculture must include giving students the opportunity to explore the concepts related to sustainable agriculture.

In recent years the agricultural industry has been criticized as being wasteful and harmful to the environment and the whole of society. There is also concern that rural communities and the rural way of life are slowly becoming obsolete because of the lack of practices that conserve and maintain the resources needed for the production and management of agricultural products (Poincelot, 1986). As a result of these criticisms and concerns many people in the field have begun to take a closer look at the production and management practices of modem agriculturalists and have tried to develop a farming model or paradigm that will help American farmersand ruralcommunitiessurviveand thrive as society enters the hventy-firstcentury.
One of the most popular, as well as controversial, farming models being lauded by agriculture professionals is that of sustainable agriculture. Most reseamhers and experts in the field define sustainable agriculture as a holistic agricul-

Shaw b a University.-A

ent Spednllst and Key b a profesor Ln cbe

Department d Agrlculbrnl EducaUon, 448 Agrlalhrml Hall, Okla-

homa Stale Unlverslty, StUwnter, OK 7407S-0484.


tural management philosophy that emphasizes the application of scientific knowledge to produce acceptable longterm economic returns, protect the environment, and promote social values including human health and safety (Texas Agricultural Extension Service, 1989). Before this knowledge can be applied, however, it must be learned and accepted by those who may be in a position to use it later, specifically secondary agricultural education students.
While secondary agricultural education students may have always studied the basic cultural practices that many believe to be the basis for sustainable agriculture, the student who truly studies sustainable agriculture will view the concept as a holistic management scheme to be utilized for the purpose of improving the total farm environment. For example, one of the most important aqpects of the economic impact of sustainable agriculture is rural community development and sustainability. Edward, et al. (1990) contended that people in rural communities are beginning to realize how agriculture and the community are interrelated and that there are ways to make the farm work for the community. Woods and Sanders (1987) noted that the relationship between agricultural and non agricultural sectors of local economies implies that agriculture depends on the rest of the economy and the economy depends on agriculture. This holistic concept is often overlooked in many traditional agricultural education programs (Plowman, 1989). Stevens (196'7) noted agriculture students must not only be taught to produce, but also to realize their responsibility for promoting family welfare, farm efficiency, community survival, and societal contributions on the part of agriculturalists.
The understanding of sustainable agriculture may be of great benefit to future agriculturalisls in maintaining and strengthening the agricultural infrastructure in the U.S.A. and the world (Madden, 1988). Cooper and Gamon (1991)
A knowledge of sustainable agriculture subjects is needed to ensure that each subsystem within the farm system is managed in the best way. Current and prospective agriculture students should be introduced to the application of these subjects in relation to the total farm operation @. 13).
It is for this reason that it appeared to be essential to assess the extent to which sustainable agriculture topics were being taught in secondary agricultural education classes.
NACTA Journal -- September 1993

Problem I Purpose
While the subject of sustainable agriculture is currently in the spotlight of the agricultural industry, there has been a lack of evidence that secondary agricultural education instructors were teaching sustainable agriculture in their classes. An assessment of the extent to which sustainable agriculture was being taught in secondary agricultural education classes was needed to determine the course of action that teachers should take to ensure that this new area of agriculture is made available to all students.
The primary purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which Oklahoma agricultural education instructors were teaching sustainable agriculture topics in their classes. A secondary purpose of this study was to assess the availability and usefulness of curricular and teaching materials in this area.

In order to survey the utilization of sustainable agriculture concepts as topics for agricultural education classes it was first necessary to identify a representative sample of these concepts that are accepted by the agricultural industry. A primary source used to develop a list of accepted sustainable agriculture concepts and practices was a study completed by Purswell(l991) in which suslainable agriculture practices used by Oklahoma farmers and ranchers were identified. Concepts dealing with sustainable agriculture as it relates to rural community development were derived from extension fact sheets and other publications pertaining to the economic effects of sustainable agriculture. The list of accepted sustainable agriculture concepts included:

Rural community development Alternative enLerprLFcs Animal manure fertiltzer Resistant crops Cover crops Organlc gardening Parasite monitoring Water quality hllnlmum or non-tillage Strip cropplng Green manure crops Soil erosion control

Rural population sustainability Alternative power InIegrated pest management Wildlife management Range and brush contrd Compatible crop Pasture rotallon Fallow ground Crop rotatlon Contour farmlng Drlp LrrigaUon Mulching

These concepts and practices were categorized into five groups for use in gathering more general information concerning teachers' perceptions. These groups were: Conservation practices, Environmental concerns, Alternative enterprises, Rural development, and Integrated pest management.
A researcher developed instrument was utilized to gather the data necessary for the conduct of this study. Sixteen items were developed to address each of the objectives set forth in the study.
The population for this study included all secondary Agricultural Education instructors in the state of Oklahoma. The entire population (446 teachers) was surveyed. A total of 368 (82.51%) teachers responded. T-tests and Chi-square procedures were utilized to determine no significant difference between early and late respondents.
NACTA Journal -- September 1993

Emphasis Placed on Sustainable Agriculture The overall amount of emphasis placed on teaching sus-
tainable agriculture topics, illustrated in Table 1, was observed to be mostly moderate. Of the twenty-three topics listed, only six were shown to be given high emphasis by teachers. These six topics were alternative enterprises, rural community development, pasture rotation, range and brush control, watcr quality, and soil erosion. Only one of the topics listed, drip irrigation, was shown to be given low emphasis by teachers.
T a b l e 1. E m p h a s i s P l a c e d b y T e a c h e r s U p o n Selected Sustain-
able Agrkulture Topics



SD Interpretation

Water Quality


Soil Erosion


Pasture Rotation


Altemotive Enterprises


RangelBrush Control


Rural Community Development 2.61

Parasite Monitoring


Cover Crops


Compatible Crops


Rural Population Sustainability


Integraltd Pest Managanent


Contour Farrning


M i n i m d o Till


Animal Manure Fertilizer




Resiswt Crop


Crop Roluion


Strip Cropping


Organic Gardening


Fallow Ground


Alternative Power


Green manure Crops


Drip Irrigation








.94 High



.90 tligh



































(Scale: I = Low: 2 = Moderate. 3 = High. 4 = Exireme)

Courses in Which Sustainable Agriculture is Taught Teachers were asked to identify the sustainable agricul-
ture topics they would most likely teach in specific courses. A summary of the responses to this item is presented in Table 2.
T a b l e 2. M o s t F r e q u e n t l y Identifled S u s t a i n a b l e A g r i c u l t u r e
Topics T h a t Would be Taught in Specific Agricultural Education Courses.
C o u m I Activitv Tooic Most Freauentlv Identified N = 368

Natural Resources

Wildlife Managcrncnt 270

Produuion Managernml I Pasture Relation


Agriculture 11

Cover Crops


H o r r i c u l ~ ~Ir e

Organic Gardening


Agriculture 1

Altunative Enierprises 79

Production Muugernent I1 Resistant C r o p


81h Grade Agriculture

Alternative Enterprises 34

Agr. S a l u and S e r v i a

Runl Community Dev. 21

Employmat in Agribusiness Rural Pop. Sustainability 19

Agricultunl Mcchanics I Alternative Power


Agr. Produds & Mklng. Alternative Enterprises 16

Agricultural Med~anicr11 Al~ernativcPower


Ag. Career Orientation

Rural Pop. Susdnability IS


Wildlife Management 12

Equine Management

Alternative Power



Rural Pop. Sustainability 23


A l m a t i v e Enterprises 10

Curriculum Material
When asked to rate the adequacy of curriculum material for teaching sustainable agriculture concepts teachers indicated that for most concepts it was fair. One sustainable agriculture concept, conservation practices, was rated as being good in the current curriculum material. Integrated pest management, on the other hand, was rated as being poor in the current curriculum material. Reasons for Teaching Sustainable Agriculture
Teachers were asked whether or not they would teach or had taught sustainable agriculture topics in their classes. Those who indicated that they had taught or would teach these topics were asked to select, from a list of responses, those reasons that influencedthem to teach sustainableagriculture topics in their classes. Of the 368 teachers responding to the survey, 178 (48.37%) stated that they had taught sustainableagriculture because of a personal interest in the area. The next most frequently identified reasons for teaching sustainableagriculture topics were student interest and economic importancewith 128(34.78%) and 127 (34.5 1%) teachers responding respectively. Personal experience was cited by 110 (29.89%) teachers as the reason that they chose to teach sustainable agriculture topics in their classes. Reasons for Not Teaching Sustainable Agriculture
The teachers who indicated that they had not or would not teach sustainable agriculture topics in their classes were also asked to identify reasons for this decision. Of the teachers surveyed, 68 (18.48%) indicated that they would not or had not taught sustainable agriculture topics because of a lack of curriculum material available on the subject. Lack of student interest was cited by 50 (13.59%) as being the reason for not teaching sustainable agriculture topics. Forty-seven (12.77%) teaches cited lack of personal interest as the reason for not teaching or planning to teach sustainable agriculture topics. Finally, personal experience was indicated by 38 (10.33%) as the reason for not teaching sustainable agriculture topics. Importance of Sustainable Agriculture to Students
Teachers were asked to provide reasons, in an openended question, for why they did or did not think it was important for students to learn sustainable agriculture. Of the 106 teachers who chose to respond to this item, 25 (23.58%) provided positive environmental responses, 15 (14.15%) positive economic responses were listed, 50 (47.17%) provided positive social responses, 3 (2.83%) gave negative social responses, and 13 (12.26%) gave positive miscellaneous responses. Teacher Knowledge of Sustainable Agriculture
In order to determine the perceived knowledge level of teachers in sustainable agriculture topics, teachers were asked to rate their knowledge in five broad areas that were identifiedas being related to sustainableagriculture.Teachers rated their knowledge below average in only one area, integrated pest management. Knowledge in all other areas was rated as average.
Teachers were also asked to rate their comfort level in teaching topics in the various sustainable agriculture areas. Respondents rated their comfort level to be very uncomfort-

able in the area of integrated pest management and uncomfortable in the area of rural development. Teachers stated that they would be comfortable teaching in the areas of alternative enterprises, conservation practices, and environmental concerns. A Pearson Product Moment correlation confirmed a correlationof -93between knowled-gelevel and comfort level.
I'nvmnmnlcll Cunccrns
Flgure 1. Relationship Between Knowledge of and Comfort Level Por Teaching Sustainable Agrkulture Topics In-Service on Sustainable Agriculture
Teachers were asked to rate the need for in-serviceon the five identified sustainable agriculture subject areas. All subject areas were rated as having a moderately high need for in-service with the exception of integrated pest management which was rated as having a moderate need.
In order to determine teachers' overall perceptions about sustainable agriculture they were asked to respond to an open ended question concerning their personal opinion of the sustainable agriculture movement. Responses were first categorized by their positive or negative nature and then grouped into one of four categories, environmental responses, economic responses, social responses, and mismllaneousresponses. A total of 87 teachers chose to respond to this item.
Figure 2. Responses Concerning Teachers' Opinions of Sustainable Agriculture by Selected Category.
Conclusions and Recommendations
1. That teachers taught a variety of the courses offered in the Agricultural Education programs in Oklahoma, but tended to more often teach those courses that could be considered traditional and/or production based.
2. That teachers emphasized those sustainable agriculture topics that could be considered more traditional since many stated that they had always taught the topics,just not under the title of sustainable agriculture. Examples of this
NACTA Journal -- September 1993

can be seen in Table 2. Most of the sustainable agriculture topics were viewed by teachers as being best suited to the production oriented courses and an effort should be made to in-service teachers on ways to integrate the teaching of these topics into courses in which they have not traditionally been taught.
3. That curriculum material dealing with sustainable agriculture was, in the eyes of the teachers, mostly fair at best and that more curriculum material dealing with sustainable agriculture should be developed. It was further concluded that teachers were somewhat unwilling to teach topics that are not specifically covered in the core curriculum material for a particular course and should be provided in-service on procurement and use of outside resource material on sustainableagriculture.
4. That teachers generally believed that sustainable agriculture should be taught to secondary Agricultural Education students because of personal interest of the teacher, student interest, and economic importance. The main reason that teachers would not teach sustainable agriculture was concluded to be a lack of quality curriculum material over the subject. It was further concluded that teachers believed that the importance of sustainable agriculture was due to the impact tha~the movement would have on societal and environmental concerns of the agricultural industry.
5. That teachers perceived their knowledge of sustainable agricultureto be averagein all areas with the exception of integrated pest management and that they would feel comfortableteaching topics in all areas except rural development and integrated pest management. In-service should be provided in these areas.
6. That teachers perceived that some sustainable agriculture practices were being utilized by the majority of producers in the state. It was further concluded that most of the sustainable practices identified as being irnporlant were viewed, by teachers, as those practices that had always been done to meet the demands of a particular enterprise. Materials should be developed to show the wide variety of sustainable agriculturepractices that may be used by producers.
7. That teachers were interested in participating in inservice training covering those topics with which they already felt comfortable and perceived their knowledge level to be average. It was further concluded that teachers felt a need for in-service over those sustainable agriculture practices that were commonly used by Oklahoma producers.
8. That teachers generally had a positive opinion of sustainable agriculture, but were somewhat pensive about the long-range value of all of the views and practices included under the sustainableagricultureconcept.
Cooper, N., Br Gamon,J. (1991). Sustainable Agriculture: What Does it Mean. T k Agricultural Education Magazine. 63 (8), 1213.
Edwards, Ck.Ramn, L., MaddeqP., Miller, R.H., & House, G. @is.).
(1990). S u s t a i ~ b l eAgriculture Systems. Ankeny. Iowa: Soil and Water Conservation Society.
- Madden, P. (1988). Low-inputl Sustainable Agricultural Research and
Education Challenges to the Agricultural Economics Profession. American J w n a l of Agriculrural Economics. 70 (5). 1 167-1172.

Plowrnaq RD. (October, 1989). Sustaining Agriculture. Agricullurd Research. USDA: Agricultural Research Service.
Poinelo~,W.(1986). Toward a More S u s k z i d e Agriculrwe. Con-
necticut: AVI Press. Punwell. RR (1991). Factors Associated WPh the Continuation of Al-
r e r ~ t i vAe gricultural Enkrprises as Perceived by Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers. (Unpublished Ed.D. dissertation, Oklahoma State Universily: Stillw-r).
Stewens. G . 2 (1%7). Agricultural Education. New Yo*: Tbe MannilIan Company.
Texas Agricultural Extension Service Sustainable Agricullllre Commitlee. (1989). Sustainable Agricultwe. Reproduced MemolReport.
Woods, M.D.,& Sanders, L. (1907). Economic Developmen!for Rwal
Oklahoma.Oklahoma State University Extension Facts. No.858.



Yurmy A Brown, Socny-iromnr,
. P.O. Box 2088
. SuntbustonStatokk~ivwsity Hurtavlh,TuaTI341
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Enbsed 's my t8x-deductible contribution ardor pledge a promote insbuabnal n excelecrce h agrkullure. NACTA Foundation is exempl under 501C.3 (#7€-0162566).

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NACTA Journal -- September 1993

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Secondary Agricultural Teachers Need College Level