JCU Logo


COURSE NAME: "Food and Agriculture"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2017

INSTRUCTOR: Margaret Kneller
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: TTH 10:00-11:15 AM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: MA 100 or MA 101

This is a survey course of agriculture, emphasizing the important food plants of the 21st century. The aim is to learn key processes which lead to the wide array of foods, which are available in developed countries. We start from the events of domestication, pass through the Green Revolution, and end with major plant crop commodities (such as bananas and coffee) being cultivated by “agribusiness” or also by “sustainable” farming methods. We also look at major issues related to agriculture today: for example, the development of biofuels which may use food stocks, and diseases and pests which threaten important monocultures. We look at the major achievements in agriculture of the 20th century, and try to anticipate the important uses and vulnerabilities of plant crops in the 21st century.
Domestication of major animals and crops (timing and place, in order to set the scene for when humans made major steps in controlling and managing their food supply).
Common Food Commodities which are important today.
Grains (concentrating on wheat, corn, and rice—where grown, population served, cultivation requirements).
The Green Revolution.
Food for Export, e.g. Coffee, Cocoa, Bananas.
Examples of, and the Pros/Cons of Genetically Modified (Crop) Organisms—Amflora, Golden Rice, Insecticide Sweet Corn.
Sugar: crop sources.
Fertilizers, synthetic and organic.
Oils: palm oil, …canola.
Minor but Essential Crops, e.g. Leafy Green Vegetables.
Crop Pests, Diseases and Pesticides, imminent threats: e.g. wheat rust.
Modern Industrial Agriculture to Organic Farming, examples.
Biofuels or Food: ethanol from sugar cane and corn, palm oil.
We learn about important food crops: from their cultivation and production, through to their use by consumers.  We look at the major achievements in agriculture of the 20th century, and try to anticipate the important uses and vulnerabilities of plant crops in the 21st century. 
Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Various government, academic, research institutions.Various authorsMultiple  Articles are in the MyJCU folder, or linked from the syllabus.

Midtermvocabulary, short answer, describe graphs and figures30
4 Short PapersApproximately every three weeks, there will be an assignment, related to the material, in which you will write or present your analysis. One page (500 to 1000 words), typed, with references. The bibliography should contain sources as given in the guidelines. Each entry must be sufficiently complete so that I can find any entry that you give me (a single http address is incomplete). Aim to follow one format consistently for all entries. Papers due electronically, no late papers accepted. Grading guidelines are in the shared files folder: "GradingGuidelinesNS220Fall.docx". TurnitIn may be used to assess your citations.30
Class Discussion, Short AssignmentsRelevant classroom discussion and questions.10
FinalVocabulary definitions, short answers, describe graphs and figures, and essays.30

AThis type of work demonstrates the ability to learn the concepts and theories presented, and also to begin to make analysis. During class discussion and in written tests, the student shows clear evidence of a significant amount of reading, and comprehension, of the required and recommended articles and
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised. There is usually a demonstration of ability to learn the concepts and theories presented. During class discussion and in written tests, the student usually shows evidence of a significant amount of reading, and comprehension, of the required and recommended articles and texts. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading of the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material. Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included. In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Class attendance is required.  More than four unexcused absences will lower the grade by one whole point (e.g. from B to C).  Please refer to the university catalog for the attendance and absence policy.

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


IMPORTANT:  The Registrar decides the day of  the Final Exams.   I cannot reschedule.  Fall 2017: We have one Friday make-up day—October 27 (because of university-wide holiday November 23). 

FAO may have a public lecture, which will try to attend, during their Food Security Week October 9-13, 2017 http://www.fao.org/cfs/en/

Week 1: Common Food Commodities Today. Students, choose your food (and country).
Reading: <Explore Data> at FAO of the UN: start at http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#home .  Extra: USDA Global Crop Production Analysis http://www.pecad.fas.usda.gov/ 

Week 2: Domestication of major crops (timing and place, in order to set the scene for when humans made major steps in controlling and managing their food supply), the First Agricultural Revolution.
Reading: Jared Diamond, “Evolution, consequences and future of plant and animal domestication,” in Nature, 2002 [Moodle].  Optional reading: K Brown, New Trips through the Back Alleys of Agriculture, Science, 27 April 2001, Vol 292, p. 631-633; Seeking Agriculture's Ancient Roots, Michael Balter (June 29, 2007), Science 316 (5833), 1830-1835. [doi: 10.1126/science.316.5833.1830] [both Moodle].

Week 3 and 5: Grains (where grown, population served, cultivation requirements)
Wheat, domestication and cultivation. Reading: 1. Curtis, BC. 2002, “Wheat in the world” in Curtis, BC et al. (eds.) Bread Wheat: Improvement and Production (FAO Plant Production and Protection Series No. 30), Rome, FAO, pp. 1–19. [online http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/y4011e/y4011e04.htm] AND 2. Oregon State University website. OSU Extended Campus: World food crops. Week 4 (Unit 7). Wheat: Triticum aestivum and related species. [online http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/css/330/four/index.htm ]

Corn. Reading: The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by M Pollan (Chapters 1 and 2, but you might enjoy reading more). On reserve in Frohring Library.

Rice. Reading: Oregon State University website. OSU Extended Campus: World food crops. “(Unit 8). Rice - Oryza sativa” [http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/css/330/four/index2.htm]. Optional: International Rice Institute science from Rice Today articles  < http://ricetoday.irri.org/> (but also policy articles are available—use pull down menus).

Week 6: Pollinators and CCD. Readings: 1. UNEP 2010 - UNEP Emerging Issues: Global Honey Bee Colony Disorder and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators [Moodle]; 2. Honey Bee Health and Colony Collapse Disorder, USDA [online https://www.ars.usda.gov/oc/br/ccd/index/]; 3. J Tylianakis, “Global Plight of Pollinators,” 2013 [Moodle], 4. AAAS online, “Science: Common Crop Pesticide Harms Bumblebee and Honeybee Species,” 29 March 2012, by Kathy Wren and Natasha D. Pinol (with short video) at http://www.aaas.org/news/science-common-crop-pesticide-harms-bumblebee-and-honeybee-species , 5. “Agriculture is Forever Changed in Ontario — 4 Lessons Learned from the Neonic Restriction Process,” RealAgriculture Agronomy Team , August 7, 2015, by Terry Daynard [Moodle] and 6. article compendium <Pollinators_2007_to_2016> [Moodle]

Week 7: The Green Revolution. Reading: “Green Revolutionary,” by John Pollock, Technology Review, published by MIT, January/February 2008 [Moodle], or “Biotechnology and the Green Revolution Norman Borlaug” at http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/topics/borlaug/special.html and http://www.agbioworld.org/biotech-info/topics/borlaug/bioscience.html . Then: “We Need a New Green Revolution” by P A Sharp and A Leshner, Jan 4, 2016, The New York Times [Moodle]

Week 7: Midterm

Week 8:  Bananas. Readings: Banana knowledge, emphasis Tropical Race 4: go to www.promusa.org, then Musapedia tab, and then scroll down and open <Tropical Race 4>, OR, C. Canine, “Building a Better Banana” at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/building-a-better-banana-70543194/ and [Moodle], OR M. Peed, “We Have No Bananas,” the New Yorker, 2011 [Moodle]. Tropical Race 4: “Scientists race to halt banana catastrophe,” by C E Lucci, E Nakkazi, I Vesper, Y-H Law, 29/02/16, at http://www.scidev.net/global/enterprise/trade/  [and Moodle]

Week 9: Fertilizers, synthetic and organic. Reading: “Q and A Fertilizer,” or “Nitrogen and Food Production: Proteins for Human Diets,” by Vaclav Smil, Ambio Vol. 31 No. 2, OR “The oil we eat: Following the food chain back to Iraq,” by Richard Manning at www.harpers.org/TheOilWeEat.html , OR “Food production: Agriculture wars,” by Javier Blas in London and Leslie Hook, “…Potash Supplies…”, Financial Times, August 27, 2010, The Haber Bosch Process [all in Moodle].

Week 10-11: Biotech Plant Crops, also called GMOs
Readings:  SEE references in the power point lectures put on line, and these articles:
“GM Crops, a World View,” Science magazine, 2011 [Moodle];
P. Byrne, “Genetically Modified Crops: Techniques and Applications,” CSUniv. 8/2014 [Moodle]
“A hard look at GM crops,” by Natasha Gilbert, Nature, Vol 497, 2 May 2013 [Moodle].
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) reports at http://www.isaaa.org/
·          “Impacts of genetically engineered crops on pesticide use in the U.S. -- the first sixteen years,” by Charles M Benbrook, in Environmental Sciences Europe 2012, 24:24 doi:10.1186/2190-4715-24-24.
Herbicide Resistance, example Glyphosate:  see article compendium <Glyphosate up to Spring 2016> [Moodle]
“Why Roundup Ready Crops Have Lost their Allure” by Jordan Wilkerson, figures by Brian Chow, http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/roundup-ready-crops/ , Comments have good info also. [also Moodle]
Agent Orange, Wikipedia & Monsanto [Moodle has condensed article]
Pesticide Resistance, see: “GMOs and Pesticides: Helpful or Harmful?,”by J Hsaio, figures by KLyon,  anarticle is part of the August 2015 Special Edition, Genetically Modified Organisms and Our Food. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2015/gmos-and-pesticides/
·         Compendium: “Scientists against GMOs,” by J. Edwards, August 2015.
Platt, Agrochemical seed mergers, and Stucke and Grunes, “Antitrust Review Bayer Monsanto” [Moodle]

Week 12:  Sugar, crop sources.
Reading: The Biology and Ecology of Sugarcane (Saccharum spp. hybrids), Australian government, December 2004—a long document, peruse to get the essential facts [Moodle]; optional http://web.unbc.ca/chemistry/CHEM110/artificial.pdf

Week 13: Food for Export, e.g. Coffee, Cocoa, Oil Palm.
Coffee Reading: “Coffee’s Economics, Rewritten by Farmers,” by N LaPorte, March 16, 2013 and Lavazza Coffee Notes [Moodle]

Week 14: Agrobiodiversity. Readings: “What is happening to Agrobiodiversity?” from FAO [MyJCU] and learning about the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species by starting at “Securing the web of life” at https://www.iucn.org/content/securing-web-life-0 and “Crop Wild Relatives: IUCN Red List Status” at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/conservation/species/redlist/plants/wild_relatives_status.htm

Note that Pests were covered in relation to several crops (wheat, bananas).