Modern agricultural production and land resource management requires sustainability, profitability, and innovation. Today’s successful resource manager must critically evaluate how food production, recreation, urban development, water, wildlife, human, and financial resources affect sustainability of the land. To train these future managers, Colorado State University created the Western Center for Integrated Resource Management. The long term goal of the Western Center is to “improve the competitive position and sustainability of independent livestock producers and the economic and environmental health of rural communities.”
The Integrated Resource Management Program traces its origins to the mid-1970s when a small group of dedicated faculty from the Colleges of Agricultural Sciences, Natural Resource Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences with support from the Colorado Agriculture Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension saw a need and stepped forward to meet that need.
During the first decade, the IRM team included animal scientists, agricultural economists, range scientists and veterinarians who focused their efforts on making animal agriculture profitable on 19 cooperating ranches representative of the different production areas in Colorado. The program was quite successful in that the cooperating producers benefited, field days and short courses were very successful (an entire issue of Beef magazine dedicated to the IRM program at CSU), and faculty became more aware of the real issues that ranchers faced on a daily basis.
The next five years were spent developing regional, multi-producer IRM programs that were variable in their success. The program in the San Luis Valley was especially notable because it included some excellent Extension agents and a very supportive producer/cooperator from the earlier program. A very successful program is continuing in Sterling that has met continuously for over 10 years. However, local support and leadership for these programs was a key factor in determining their success. Programs in other areas were less successful.
During the subsequent five years, Colorado IRM turned its attention to identifying and addressing specific problems facing Colorado range livestock producers. Twelve research projects were funded that targeted nutrition, reproductive management, quality assurance, land resource management, economic efficiency, intensive sheep management and intergenerational estate transfer.
Integrating Educational Programs
Although the IRM program has had success in enhancing production efficiency at the individual producer level, its primary limitation is that it worked on an individual ranch model. While this was extremely beneficial for these individual ranchers, and as a demonstration to those in the business, the total impact of the effort did not realize its maximum potential on a wider community basis. Given the challenges facing rural ranching communities, the next logical step was to extend the IRM concept to working with ranching communities and their educational systems to identify opportunities that simultaneously enhanced the sustainability of livestock ranching and the quality of life in rural environments.
Therefore, the next objective was to develop an education program that would educate much larger numbers of land managers and to broaden the focus of the program. We developed an interdisciplinary program involving six departments (Animal Sciences, Agricultural and Resource Economics, Biomedical Sciences, Clinical Sciences, Rangeland Ecosystem Sciences and Sociology) in four colleges to provide educational opportunities at different levels including high school, an undergraduate interdisciplinary studies program, and a combined Master’s of Agriculture/Outreach program. The Master’s of Agriculture in Integrated Resource Management was a logical extension of the existing educational activities.
Ultimately, WCIRM faculty developed a combined Master’s of Agriculture/Outreach program. A terminal degree for individuals desiring to become professional land-based resource managers, the program attracts operators of family-owned ranches, federal or state agency personnel, ranch managers for corporations and absentee owners, loan officers and extension personnel. These individuals often are unable to participate as traditional, full-time students due to employment and family obligations. Therefore, we have developed a program that allows us to simultaneously serve the needs of full-time students, part-time students and clientele interested in specific, topical information. Students also participate in one or two internships depending upon their background and interests. The intent is to make the limited resources available to the WCIRM meet the needs of as many diverse clientele as possible. We have designed an integrated series of 10 courses that includes introductory material delivered via the internet, intensive modular courses, and hands-on follow-up where appropriate.
Participation in core classes ensures that individuals understand the basic issues involved in integrating the management of land, animal (domestic and wildlife), financial and human resources. The latest information in areas such as marketing, risk management, genetics, rangeland monitoring, reproductive technologies, ranching for wildlife, etc. is presented. Each module also allows individuals who are not interested in an advanced degree to obtain critical information by participation in these courses. All courses are delivered at the graduate level, which will provide more depth than many previous outreach programs. The modular approach to classes has been very well received by students, producers, Extension personnel, and faculty who must also continue to teach their current courses. The ability to complete the course in approximately two weeks of intensive learning makes it much easier to maintain existing commitments. For example, this format provides several specific courses that are particularly appropriate for students in the large animal track of the Professional Veterinary Medicine Program (PVM), which can be easily accommodated by the modular format of the PVM curriculum during the third and fourth years. The fact that students can complete the program in as little as one year (new BS students) or can complete it over a longer period of time (instructors in tribal colleges, producers, etc.) fills a need for a broad array of students. It also is exciting for existing land managers who can identify individual weaknesses in their background and take appropriate courses to address the specific deficiency. Many individuals that we have contacted feel that this is an excellent model for life-long learning.
Early Outreach Efforts
WCIRM personnel have developed a CD-ROM-based animal science curricular aid, complete with instructor’s manual, which has been distributed to 63 vocational agriculture programs in Colorado for testing. The purpose of this curriculum is to provide basic disciplinary information such as nutrition, genetics, grazing management, etc. and to introduce integrated resource management concepts. Students are provided information regarding alternative production and marketing strategies and learn that every management decision has multiple effects on profitability and sustainability. The CD-ROM currently has been evaluated for efficacy. We are in the eighth year of offering the specialized coursework required for an undergraduate Interdisciplinary Studies Program in Integrated Resource Management. Students majoring in Animal Sciences, Agricultural and Resource Economics or Range Science can participate in this program. We have historically provided an excellent education in the individual components of animal and range sciences, agriculture economics, etc., but what has been missing is the integration of this material. We are filling this need with a sophomore-level travel course (AGRI 383), to expose students to a variety of land resource managers and management issues and to introduce them to integrated resource management, and a senior capstone course (AGRI 424), where students develop a specific management plan for a specific land-based resource.
In Fall 2008, we officially launched two online courses, and a third was added in Spring 2009. Eventually, all 10 courses will be offered online, and students may obtain our Master’s of Agriculture in Integrated Resource Management entirely online. We have two admitted degree-seeking students in our online program, six applicants, and an additional 13 students who have enrolled in the courses as electives. These courses reach into rural Colorado to sites where ranchers and others involved in agriculture may be unable to leave their obligations and travel to our campus for even two weeks to take our resident instruction courses. A cooperative agreement is being negotiated through the College of Agriculture to offer our distance program through 12 other universities, allowing graduate students from those other institutions to access our courses and receive credit through their home institutions. This program is now tentatively named AG-IDEA, and details are available at http://www.agidea.org/.