CLC, community college partners join forces with USDA ag conservation service

Central Lakes College exterior entrance
Central Lakes College
Brainerd Dispatch file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service is partnering with Central Lakes College and eight other Midwest community colleges to support hands-on student learning in the field, to develop future conservation-minded farmers and ranchers, and to cultivate more graduates interested in pursuing careers with Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Service representatives and those from the Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancement had a virtual ceremony to celebrate the formal signing Monday, Sept. 21, of a national memorandum of understanding to develop a cooperative framework to enhance and accelerate training and adoption of technologies and best practices for improved agricultural productivity and natural resources stewardship.

“Agriculture is such a critical part of what we do at Central Lakes College,” CLC President Hara Charlier stated in a news release. “This partnership will strengthen all of the amazing work already happening at CLC and will help both us and the partner colleges advance our work even more. We are honored to be a part of this partnership and look forward to all of the positive initiatives it will bring.”

All member institutions, including CLC, have college farms and use their land resources for the implementation of conservation practices on the ground to help educate and inform students and producers. The goal of the cooperative agreement is to not only 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.

In addition, the colleges use the network to share resources, knowledge and expertise. Collectively, they are working on a grant through USDA’s North Central Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, which seeks to increase awareness, knowledge and skills related to soil health, cover crops and no-till agriculture, the release stated. The development of content such as videos and case studies for the classroom is a critical component to help illustrate concepts of profitability, sustainability and productivity. These assets will be shared across the network for the benefit of all member institutions.


Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, said during the signing event ideas that come from partnerships like this one will assist him and his colleagues in Washington make decisions in a time of limited financial resources as they write the next farm bill.

“You’d be surprised how many members of the committee don’t have any real feedback from the rural world in terms of what we’re doing with these programs. And hopefully by doing things like this we can provide more of that to our committee members,” Peterson stated in the release. “I think we’re going to have to change things in agriculture going forward with concerns about climate change and water quality and all of these other issues are going to have to be addressed because our urban and suburban colleagues are demanding it. … I just want as much information as I can have as we’re making these decisions and what (Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancement colleges) are doing is going to help us get them.”

“We are very excited for our partnership with (Natural Resource Conservation Service),” Keith Olander, director of the CLC Ag & Energy Center and dean of agricultural studies, said in a news release. “Together, we will train students to work in agriculture, where they will assist farmers in balancing economic viability with environmental sustainability tailored for their farm.”

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

Natural Resource Conservation Service Acting Chief Kevin Norton said the partnership demonstrates the power of public and private partnerships and brings together the federal government with community colleges that represent the geography, landscape and agriculture where they’re located.

“(Natural Resource Conservation Service) recognizes the unique niche that these colleges play across rural landscapes all over the country, particularly those colleges that have actual working farms.”

Over the course of the next five years, the Natural Resource Conservation Service will develop a conservation plan for each member college with land and address their resource concerns. After the plans are developed, the agency will assist the colleges in installing conservation practices, in addition to hosting field days, which Norton said demonstrates to all ag producers how conservation works and how it can make a difference on the land.

“Today’s memorandum of understanding establishes a collaborative framework for cooperative activities intended to enhance and accelerate training, the adoption of new technologies that would improve agriculture production and the natural resource stewardship in the geography around your campus and the agriculture producers tied to that,” Norton said. “Over the next five years, we’re going to focus this collaboration with joint pursuits — things that work for both of us around soil health.”


That includes looking into new opportunities related to water quality, such as keeping nutrients that are applied on the field, reducing sediment delivery and other strategies.

“We’re (also) going to expand opportunities with the state conservationists and college presidents — we’re going to expand with what they are already doing and take a look at new curriculum opportunities where we can work to better build a career for your students if they look to pursue a career within federal service and conservation,” Norton said. … “We can do more together than we can do individually.”

In addition to CLC, Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancement member institutions include: Clark State Community College of Springfield, Ohio, Illinois Central College of Peoria, Illinois, Ivy Tech Community College of Lafayette, Indiana, Northcentral Technical College of Wausau, Wisconsin, Northeast Community College of Norfolk, Nebraska, Northeast Iowa Community College of Calmar, Iowa, North Dakota State College of Science of Wahpeton, North Dakota, and Richland Community College of Decatur, Illinois.

For more information on Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancement, visit .

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