Writer: D'Lyn Ford
LAS CRUCES - Certification for crop advisers is New Mexico State University's latest distance education offering. The new Internet-based program provides online tools, advanced lessons and study aids for members of the public and faculty with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service
The voluntary program provides base-level standards through testing and continuing education, as well as assuring that individuals advising others on agronomic principles have a professional level of expertise, said Billy Dictson, Extension director and associate dean with NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics.
The crop adviser certification is offered by the Madison, Wis.-based American Society of Agronomy. Administered by 37 local boards throughout the United States and Canada, it has nearly 15,000 participants worldwide.
"Extension faculty will have the same credentials as private consultants who visit with farmers and charge a fee for their advice," said Jaime Castillo, a Las Cruces-based Extension staff development specialist.
Crop advisers must pass two exams - international and local - and submit credentials detailing their education and crop advising experience. The exam covers four competency areas: nutrient management, soil and water management, integrated pest management and crop management. To maintain certification, advisers must earn an additional 40 hours of continuing education every two years.
The linchpin of NMSU's new crop adviser World Wide Web site is a library of online modules developed by NMSU Extension specialists for the crop adviser exam. An Internet platform is used to stream audio and video to agricultural offices statewide.
Crop management review modules include organic farm crop production by George Dickerson, Extension horticulture specialist; crop adaptation by Bob Bevacqua, Extension vegetable specialist; and cropping systems, crop management, crop growth management, and crop harvest and storage by Denise McWilliams, Extension agronomist.
The integrated pest management section has presentations on controlling plant diseases, diagnosing plant disorders and managing plant disease by Natalie Goldberg, Extension plant pathologist, and insect identification and integrated pest management by Extension entomologist Carol Sutherland. A nutrient management portion has two modules by McWilliams.
Access to the distance learning network is available through any Internet connection, and no special equipment is needed, said Sonja Jo Serna, an Extension Web specialist who produced the crop adviser training modules. In addition, the state's 52 county Extension offices and
agricultural science centers can receive live online presentations, with more than half on the Internet's high-speed or broadband lines.
The training modules do double duty as a tutorial for those interested in taking the certification exam, and as an information source for the public on specific agricultural questions, Castillo added. He predicts that training opportunities will become more readily available and user-friendly in the future.
"We're just beginning to see the capabilities of distance education," Castillo said. "Ultimately, the citizens of New Mexico are really going to benefit from this program."
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