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  • Animal Science
  • Department of Global Development
  • Agriculture

This past spring, undergraduate students at SUNY Morrisville in Dr. Jennifer Gilbert Jenkins’ Soil Fertility course connected classroom knowledge about soil health and sustainability with actual farm assessments. They utilized the Nutrient Mass Balance (NMB) curriculum entitled “Assessing Environmental Sustainability of Farming through Whole Farm Nutrient Mass Balances.”

With degrees in Environmental Studies from SUNY Buffalo, Natural Resource Management and Engineering from the University of Connecticut, and Environmental Soil Chemistry from the University of Delaware, Gilbert Jenkins is an environmental educator who knows the importance of education in topics related to sustainability.

Gilbert Jenkins first incorporated the NMB curriculum into her Soil Fertility course as part of the pilot program conducted in the spring of 2021. The curriculum was developed by the Nutrient Management Spear Program (NMSP) at Cornell University under the leadership of Ph.D. student Agustin Olivo.  Quirine Ketterings, professor of nutrient management in the Department of Animal Science and team lead for the NMSP, and Jeff Perry, senior lecturer in instruction and education in the Department of Global Development at Cornell CALS collaborated with Olivo.

Gilbert Jenkins expressed enthusiasm when first approached by Ketterings about collaboration on the curriculum evaluation. “I have a very strong interest in sustainable agriculture, particularly as it relates to soil health. Working with Agustin and Quirine was mutually beneficial and this particular project focus was directly related to the work I do with my students,” said Gilbert Jenkins.

Olivo took the lead on designing a curriculum for 9th – 12th graders to be used in eleven sessions (40 min each). The NMB concepts and evaluation are an integral part of a senior-level Cornell University course in whole farm nutrient management (ANSC4120).

Gilbert Jenkins integrated various elements of the NMB curriculum into her soil fertility course for undergraduates at SUNY Morrisville. The students were predominantly freshman and sophomores studying Agricultural Science, Agricultural Business, or Dairy Management.

“The focus of the course, in general, is understanding the chemistry behind soil fertility, what the sources of nutrients in agricultural settings are and how to best manage them,” said Gilbert Jenkins.

“This curriculum fits with sections on how to best manage nutrients. As students learn the chemistry, they also step back and look at the big picture. They see that it’s not just how many ions can hold onto the soil but understand that the entire farm is a system, and you have to pay attention to what’s going in and what’s going out.”

The NMB curriculum was designed to combine hands-on activities with discussions to cover the fundamentals of the whole farm NMB concept. Students conducted a whole farm NMB, identifying opportunities for efficiency and sustainability improvement at the farm level.

“My students really appreciated it!” emphasized Gilbert Jenkins. “The students we get are very much focused on implementing ideas, so it was helpful for them to see the connection... they really liked going out to the farms and saying, ‘Ok these are the practices we see people doing on farms all the time... now what does it mean for nutrient applications?’. It was really helpful to have the students walk through the example exercise in the curriculum to understand the theory before they went out and worked with a farm of their own.”

Olivo recounted, “Jennifer had students work with real farms. They went to the farms, collected data, mostly from people they knew – a friend’s farm or a farm that a parent worked at - so they were connected to the whole process and knew what was going on at the farm.”

“It was great to see the students really engaged in collecting the data from the farms and running the assessment using the whole farm NMB software. I think creating a meaningful learning experience for the students, but at the same time, being able to report information back to the farmers made this collaboration with Dr. Gilbert Jenkins and her class at SUNY Morrisville even more impactful”, Olivo shares.

As for the future, Gilbert Jenkins said, “I will definitely continue to use this curriculum – it was great! Morrisville is very much a hands-on, applied learning school. The component where my students could go out to farms, collect the data, implement into the model and see the results fit right in with the type of learning opportunities that we look for. They are not just learning the theory, they’re learning the practice. They’re asking ‘how do I take this information that I have learned and use it as I leave Morrisville?’ I would love to see more of the Ag Ed teachers in the state using it!”

 

Melanie Soberon is a freelance writer for the NMSP. This article originally appeared on the NMSP website.

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