Karen A. Renner, Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Integrated Cropping Systems is a capstone course designed to enhance critical thinking skills in seniors completing a B.S. in Crop and Soil Sciences or an Agronomy Minor. Assignments include two semester long projects and one, two week assignment that require group work and collaboration. Groups are assigned based on academic majors, personal background, and student evaluation of their competence areas. For the Farm Report, students work in small groups to develop a farm report outline after reviewing three published case studies of farms. Students then write their own farm report throughout the semester. Grading is based on content of the farm report and inclusion of the reasoning behind various farm management practices. For the Crop Rotation exercise, student groups are given six crops in an envelope and initially decide a crop rotation. Throughout the semester, the agronomic and input cost information to design the cropping system including tillage operations, planting dates, seeding rates and row spacing, soil fertility programs, and pest management is added. Soil organic matter is calculated throughout the six year rotation. For the final project, groups are required to convert a county to organic production. Current crop acreage and livestock numbers are provided and students may not export or import feed or manure. Critical thinking skills in nutrient and manure management are enhanced, as well as skills in managing cover crops. These assignments require students to take course content based material and apply it to integrated cropping systems projects, enhancing information gathering, data synthesis, communication, and team-building skills.