The resolution of many agricultural and environmental problems requires an approach that accounts for complex physical, biological, and behavioral relationships and thereby integrates contributions from multiple disciplines (Corson, 1995). For example, developing sustainable animal agricultural systems requires the integration of research in agronomy and soil science, ecology and ecosystems analyses, engineering, animal nutrition, population and community biology, and economics (National Research Council, 1994a).
Agricultural scientists have made significant progress in the modeling and simulation of agricultural processes over the last 25 years. For example, applied systems models are available to simulate processes such as weather, hydrology, nutrient cycling, tillage, soil erosion, soil temperature, crop growth and development, animal production functions and systems, and agricultural markets (Vietor and Moore, 1992). These models enable instruction to rise above the qualitative sphere—encompassing factors that influence the system—to the dynamic and quantitative domains, that is, how fast and how much.
RECOMMENDATION 8. The federal government should expand competitive challenge grants to creative teachers and teaching teams to develop innovative multidisciplinary and systems-based course material and curricula.
Agricultural scientists are well positioned to apply these systems concepts and approaches to a broader array of problems—including those relevant to urban environmental systems—and to introduce them effectively in the classroom to both agricultural and nonagricultural science majors. Nonetheless, Bradshaw and Marquart (1990), as observers of today's land grant education, argue that,
In agriculture, there are many varieties of well-trained specialists: entomologists, plant pathologists, crop and soil scientists and others. Despite this high degree of specialization, or perhaps due to it, the delivery network for independent, multidisciplinary agricultural systems expertise is not in place. … Agricultural education and research respond to the needs of scientists and their disciplines, but less so to the needs of the production system and its practitioners—needs which extend beyond any single discipline.
In addition to the opportunities for leadership in applying and teaching multidisciplinary science and systems-based methodologies, LGCA faculty can use food and agricultural systems applications to teach science, providing core courses that enable students to meet university-wide requirements or requirements of science departments not located in the college of agriculture. Taking this approach not only helps students understand how basic science is relevant and useful to real problems, but also places agriculture more squarely within the scientific context (Handelsman, 1992) and opens LGCAs to a wider spectrum of students. For example, in the plant pathology department at the University of Wisconsin, a traditional course in micropathogens of plants was replaced with a course dealing with the basic principles of host-parasite interactions and critical analysis of scientific papers using examples from the plant pathology literature (Handelsman, 1992).
Every citizen participates in the formulation of public policies that impact on agriculture. Thus, every citizen affects agriculture, just as every citizen is affected by agriculture through the quality and value of its products and by the effects agriculture has on natural resources and the environment. [from University of California course material]