Agriculture Center Grows With $4.9 Million Grant

Sen Cathy Young presents checkThanks to a $4.9 million state grant presented to Alfred State College today by New York State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, the College's vision and plans for the on-campus farm will take a giant leap forward. Officially named the "Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Alfred State College," the new facility will house the state's first on-campus organic dairy herd. The Center also will include renovated facilities, a working farm, applied research, a new computerized dairy management system, and a variety of continuing education opportunities, such as research projects, conferences, workshops and online tutorials for the community.

The state funds represent a $4.9 million down payment on cutting-edge agricultural education, sustainable natural resource management and organic dairy and crop production, college officials said. Alfred State also plans to take a leadership role in the integration of alternative energy technology.

"Without question, the Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Alfred Sate College is critical to building a viable state industry which can be competitive in a global marketplace," Sen. Young said. "I'm proud to have been able to obtain the $4.9 million for the program at Alfred State. New York's farmers have been turning to innovative methods and technologies to address the changing needs and growing challenges of the agricultural community. This program will help us focus on using practical sustainable agriculture and other innovative technologies to build profitable farm businesses and a strong agriculture industry throughout the State of New York. This Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture will be a great resource for students and local farmers."

Interim Alfred State College President Dr. John B. Clark said the center will be a showcase for organic agriculture education and a leading center of agricultural research, strategically linked to local economic development.

"Alfred State College has been a leader in agricultural education for almost 100 years," Clark said. "With the Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture, the College will expand its leadership position by fully embracing the sustainability movement and bringing the future of farming to New York state. At the same time, Alfred State will continue its long-standing heritage in conventional agriculture education."

The college plans to set the standard for organic education by approaching SUNY with a proposal to develop New York state's first degree program in organic agriculture. Designed to operate like a private working farm, the dairy herd will consist of some 140 milking age animals split into two herds. One herd, which the college plans to have in place by the fall of 2009, will be managed in accordance with organic standards. The students will also continue to manage a conventional dairy herd.

Dr. Ronald Rosati, Alfred State College vice president for academic affairs, said the Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture is a response to emerging agricultural realities, including expanding markets for organic products. According to the Organic Trade Association, consumer demand for organic goods rose 20 percent or more annually during the last decade.

"Our new initiative and forward-thinking approach to agriculture helped bring Matt Harbur, a new faculty member specializing in organic practices, from Minnesota to Alfred State," Rosati said. "Through the Center, and a hands-on approach to education among key faculty members, Alfred State will develop entrepreneurs who practice sustainable agriculture while profitably managing natural resources to produce healthy food and renewable energy for a secure society."

New academic programs the college will explore include a two-year degree in agriculture technologies with provost-approved tracks in dairy, veterinary technology, agribusiness, organic farming, and nutriceuticals. The influx of state money will be put to work immediately funding potential land acquisition and new construction at the on-campus college farm. Facilities approved for construction include a 140-cow freestyle dairy barn, a milking center with a double-8 milking parlor and a 110-head dairy heifer barn. The implementation of alternative, renewable energy sources and the development of new curriculum also are on track for approval. The Center, which will utilize "smart farm" technologies, is a natural progression for Alfred State's expanding programs, building on nearly 100 years of excellence in agricultural education.

Alfred State students will be trained in stewardship of both natural and human resources, with the Center based on the principles of sustainable agriculture. Sustainability rests on the principle that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Senator Hillary Clinton also supports this initiative: "I am so pleased that Alfred State College will become an important center and resource for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture in Western New York. Organic agriculture provides an invaluable opportunity for our New York producers, but our farmers need more educational support and technical assistance to see if this option is right for them. I was pleased to host an organic agriculture workshop at Alfred State earlier this year, which was a first step in helping our farmers get the information they need to consider this value-added opportunity and I look forward to working with Alfred State to expand this program in the future," Senator Clinton said.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Department currently serves about 200 students. The college began to review its agriculture offerings and look to the future at a farm summit last year. The summit resulted in the creation of a task force charged with studying current operations at the Alfred State Farm and offering options for improvements and changes to aging facilities and programs. The Task Force report was followed by a business plan model developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension personnel.

"As a result of this analysis one thing became very apparent - if the college was to continue offering agriculture, the programs had to grow, the facilities had to change, and our mission had to expand," continued Rosati. "What we announced today is the result of a bold vision for the college and for agriculture in Western New York and New York state."