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Northeast Iowa Community College and USDA-NRCS partner to advance agricultural innovation

Thursday, June 25, 2020

CALMAR, Iowa—Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) and eight additional colleges in the Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancement (C2A3) will receive $529,924.48 over the course of the next four years as part of a cooperative agreement issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS).

The nine Midwestern community colleges that comprise the Alliance boast strong agricultural programs and traditions. The consortium was developed under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the USDA-NRCS and USDA North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (USDA-SARE). NICC is the only college in Iowa to be selected as an alliance partner.

The main objective of the agreement is to realize a shared goal of ensuring quality education and training of field practitioners. By establishing a collaborative framework for cooperative activities, these partners will enhance and accelerate training and adoption of technologies and best practices for improved agricultural productivity and natural resources stewardship.

A key component of this agreement is hands-on learning in the field, utilizing college land resources to model best practices. Faculty and students will work with NRCS field office staff to implement a conservation plan, install practices on the ground, collect data and help inform current and future producers, according to Kathy Nacos-Burds, Ph.D., NICC vice president of learning and student success.

“With the guidance of our agriculture science faculty, students will conduct applied research on land near Iowa’s Dairy Center on campus. Their research includes testing for soil health and the impact of crop rotations on soil,” said Nacos-Burds.

Nacos-Burds noted that the students’ environmental science work will include a field day, site visit for C2A3 partners, students, College staff and faculty, and the community. A primary goal of the grant-funded research is to evaluate land and conservation practices for sustainability.

“This grant focuses our efforts on sustainability and practices that contribute to healthy water, soil and food sources. Northeast Iowa Community College is delighted to be a member of this agricultural alliance and partnership,” she said.

The goal is not only to 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.

The C2A3 collaboration was born out of a mutual desire to provide more ongoing education, training and demonstration 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.

“Iowa NRCS is proud and looking forward to working with Northeast Iowa Community College and its students to promote conservation and utilize the principles of soil health,” said Kurt Simon, state conservationist for USDA-NRCS in Iowa. “Much has changed over the past decade about the way soil science experts and agricultural producers value the soil. Our partnership with NICC will help advance the soil health movement.”

In addition to working together on applied research projects that advance student learning on their college farms, member institutions partner with one another to share resources, faculty expertise, curriculum and tools which will advance the future of agriculture production in this country.