An Agricultural Law Minor: The University of Florida Experience

Article excerpt

Abstract

Students pursuing agricultural, environmental and agribusiness careers will face an increasingly complex world of laws, regulations and policies. Foundation knowledge in agricultural law provides undergraduates with timely and appropriate information for strategic decision making in a variety of professional agricultural settings following graduation. While colleges of agriculture have a long history of offering agricultural law courses, the Undergraduate Minor In Agricultural Law at the University of Florida's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is believed to be the first such curriculum in the United States. This 15-credit-hour minor consists of six core credit hours of agricultural law and nine elective credit hours of policy-oriented courses. Student enrollment has consistently increased since the minor's inception. Post-graduate interviews indicate that the agricultural-law minor provides undergraduates with an understanding of the laws, regulations and policies governing professional decision making in the workplace and enhances employability.

Introduction

Traditionally, colleges of agriculture have offered one, or possibly two, courses in the area of agricultural law. Courses included such topics as estate planning, contracts, property rights, and business organization. Students enrolled in these courses came from predominately agricultural backgrounds and were enrolled in traditional college-of-agriculture majors, such as: farm management, agricultural education, animal science, dairy science, horticulture, agricultural engineering, agronomy, and soil science. Consequently an agricultural law course met the needs of these relatively homogeneous students.

Today, colleges of agriculture are much more comprehensive, many with names such as Agricultural and Life Sciences or Food Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. These name changes reflect both an expanded clientele beyond production agriculture and the increased complexity and importance of agriculture, food and applied science.

The field of agricultural law has expanded in response to this dynamic environment. This expansion has created a need among employers and industry leaders for a curriculum which prepares undergraduates for the regulatory environment. (Tefertiller, 1997). The remainder of the paper briefly describes the new regulatory environment, outlines the minor's curriculum, and provides an initial evaluation of the minor.

The New Regulatory Environment

Graduates of today's expanded colleges of agriculture enter an increasingly complex workplace environment where on-the-job decisions demand careful analysis of laws, regulations and policies (Hamilton, 1999). In addition, workplace decision making must deal with a number of other regulatory issues not traditionally within the scope of agriculture. In general, these are issues brought to the agricultural agenda by concerns outside the agricultural community (Looney, 1993). Some issues derive from the restrictions and impacts associated with environmental, agricultural and trade policies. Other issues deal with such topics as civil rights, sexual harassment and related on-the-job actions governed by state and federal oversight. In the current regulatory environment, individuals and organizations with an interest in the food and agricultural sector will access the courts to be heard on these and many other issues.

These current workplace issues demand an undergraduate curriculum which builds a base of knowledge for appropriate decision making in a variety of professional agricultural, environmental and agribusiness settings. Some needs arise from within agriculture itself, while others come from external sources, as witnessed by increases in workplace litigation in such areas as environmental regulation (Centner, 1993) and labor law (Polopolus, 1992). Many of these regulatory areas are not within the context of traditional undergraduate education in colleges of agriculture (Fridgen, 1995). …