Central State University and three other universities will receive $10 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture to recruit, educate and retain young food and agriculture professionals, the university announced this week.
The money was awarded to four institutions: Central State and Lincoln University, two Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Texas A&M University, and the Missouri University of Science and Technology.
One of the goals is to attract diverse and younger people into the field of agriculture using technology and other innovations in farming disciplines, the university said.
“The goal is to train our undergraduate students to become the essential workforce for the future of agriculture in the United States,” said Dr. Hongmei Li-Byarlay, CSU’s principal investigator for the project and research associate professor of entomology. “The grant will provide a lot of training opportunities and research internships for students to explore a variety of topics in agriculture, especially in soil science, entomology, and life science.”
The package is part of an increase in USDA funding to the Greene County HBCU. The university received nearly $26 million in total from the USDA in 2022 for its sustainable agriculture research, which includes honeybee genetics and incorporating hemp into crop rotations of soybeans, corn, and wheat.
Professors are developing curriculum, as well as research protocols and incentives, a spokesperson for the university said.
The funding supports courses on precision agriculture and drone application, yearly geospatial information science activities, a summer workshop on regenerative agriculture, scholarships, youth programming, and others.
Undergraduates and graduate students will start with the program in 2024, and with plans to develop a doctoral degree program alongside Missouri-based Lincoln University in the next five years.
Central State’s $2.5 million portion will also go towards recruiting students for the agricultural workforce, Li-Byarlay said.
“For the people of Ohio, this award is important. Our university is building a workforce for agriculture…and Ohio is predominantly an agricultural state. We need to train citizens of Ohio to do research, to study and extend scientific knowledge on agriculture to the farmers. That is the main intent of this project,” said Dr. Sharath Krishna, professor of biology and agricultural and life sciences.
“This initiative complements Central State’s existing programs in sustainable agriculture, water resources management, environmental engineering, and experiential learning where undergraduate students currently conduct research in soil conservation, integrated pest management, pollinator health, horticulture, and other relevant topics,” said Dr. Morakinyo Kuti, interim Dean of the College of Engineering, Science, Technology, and Agriculture.