UNCP partners with Farm Bureau to expand agriscience research

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High tunnel
Shawn Harding, president of North Carolina Farm Bureau, and local Farm Bureau representatives cut the ribbon on the new high tunnel on the campus of UNC Pembroke

Eric Schwarz gained insight into agricultural practices of third-world countries while serving in the military. When he retired, Schwarz decided to enroll in the emerging Agriculture Science program at UNC Pembroke to study ways to make farming practices more sustainable.

Today, Schwarz spends his time conducting research, growing hydroponic lettuce and investigating tomato cultivars inside a new 70-feet long high tunnel in the campus garden area.

“We think this is going to be the future,” Schwarz said while adjusting the fertilizer level on one of the three hydroponic systems. “With this high tunnel, we are getting a jumpstart on researching the best approaches and what makes the best solution for sustainability.”

The Quonset high tunnel was made possible through a $75,000 gift from Robeson County Farm Bureau. Schwarz and Dr. Bryan Sales, program director, gave tours of the new growing space to local, district and state Farm Bureau representatives during a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The family of the late Lycurous Lowry was also in attendance. A giant in the agriculture industry and a 1957 UNCP graduate, Lowry was an active member of the Robeson County Farm Bureau board of directors for more than 40 years and worked diligently to make this gift possible for UNCP.

“It means so much to the ag program to have this wonderful gift,” Sales told the group. “You have given them the tools to become inspired, conduct research and learn about plants and agriculture. We have big dreams, and this is the start of our dreams.”

Last spring, students conducted an innovative tomato production research study to determine the most practical cultivars and production methods are best for local growers.

“It was more of market research to determine which practices work best for local growers who want to get an early jump on the market for tomato production,” said Schwarz, a junior.

“It’s all about thinking outside the box of where we can make our niche.”

Launched during the 2019-2020 academic year, the Bachelor of Science in Biology with an emphasis in Agriculture Science offers courses in biology and environmental science, mathematics and chemistry. Electives include animal husbandry, plant cropping, niche farming, food systems, sustainable agriculture and agricultural technology.  

The gift will be spread over five years and provide the infrastructure and equipment needed to advance the new degree program. The donation will support student research, research equipment and opportunities for students to apply their knowledge in natural agricultural settings.

Dr. Richard Gay, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said it’s exciting to see the college’s nascent agriculture program take root.

“UNC Pembroke has a strong tradition of working with the community and given our region’s history with agriculture the program is a natural fit,” Gay said.

Shawn Harding, president of North Carolina Farm Bureau, and Robeson County Farm Bureau President Miles Merce were among Bureau representatives attending the ribbon-cutting.

“This is a fantastic partnership. I am so proud of the Robeson County Farm Bureau. You folks know what the needs are here, and this high tunnel is going to fit perfectly into what the university needs here,” Harding said.