Students studying agriculture at University of Manitoba took their studies outside this summer as participants in a first-ever course being offered those in their second year of the agriculture diploma program.
The field class is instructed by pulse crops expert and U of M’s faculty of agricultural and food sciences’ agronomist in residence Kristen MacMillan, who teaches soybean field agronomy.
This summer her students are scouting their own soybean fields regularly throughout the growing season in the same role they would as a farmer or a crop adviser.
They also meet periodically for classroom and field tours, including one held in mid-July at Ian N. Morrison Research Farm in Carman.
“The concept is to have students learn by doing,” said MacMillan.
“This course in particular was designed in such a way that they are applying some of the knowledge that they already gained in their first year. They’ve just been given a basic introduction to soils, plants and pests in agriculture. This is giving them the opportunity to apply that knowledge and integrate it into managing a crop.”
The university will introduce various changes to its diploma program this fall, including placing a new emphasis on experiential learning as part of its program updates.
The Carman visit included classroom time reviewing basic research principles and approaches, such as how to design an experiment and to interpret results.
The students have also been introduced to scouting principles they can apply to all crops in an initial orientation class, and given assignments to do some scouting and research of their own.
On the walk at the Carman site, MacMillan talked about how research is conducted, why it’s important, and asked the students to offer observations of their own.
An overriding theme of the course is to help students understand how knowledge is generated, said MacMillan.
“I’m trying to get them to develop their critical thinking skills, and demonstrate how to make observations and create new questions and create new knowledge,” she said.
That’s a skill they can use for lifelong learning, she added.
The Carman field trip also aimed to expose the students to the large volume of agricultural research underway and for most if not all, this was a first-ever visit to a research farm.
They want their students to understand that when they need information on their crop, there is research done in Manitoba that can help to improve their cropping systems, MacMillan said.
At Carman, students were looking at various plot trials examining fundamental management issues such as seeding dates and seeding depth. Again, this is where students integrate their classroom learning, and make links between management decisions and research and where research comes from, said MacMillan.
“On their farm they’re making management decisions,” said MacMillan. “I’m asking them to think about where that information came from.”
The student’s main activity for their summer course is to take responsibility for managing a soybean crop of their own, either on their own family’s farm or belonging to a neighbour. The students are scouting these fields regularly, identifying the crop’s key stages, observing any diseases or pest issues arising, then making the appropriate management decisions.
The students will also be attending an extension event this summer where they’re encouraged to ask more questions about how and where information is generated.