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Research leads to first-ever agricultural communications program in the UK


FAYETTEVILLE — There are about 50 degree programs specializing in agricultural communications in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, the first master’s level microcertificate program has just begun to take shape with some help from an Arkansas professor.
Jefferson Miller, a researcher for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and professor for the agricultural education, communications, and technology department, is now helping develop a curriculum for Scotland’s Rural College in Edinburgh.
“There are all these people doing ag communications work all over the U.K., but there is no academic program to be seen,” Miller said. “The food we eat and the crops that we grow to produce that food are basic human needs. Because we're communicating about a basic human need, the need to communicate clearly to consumers, policymakers, and young people so they'll understand the future of food is becoming more important.”
In a recent episode of the Food, Farms & Forests podcast, Miller shared his journey, the insights that led to this program, and the need and impact of agricultural communications in the United States and abroad.
Research and findings
Miller’s latest research on the topic is guiding the development of this curriculum with a study titled "Perceptions of Professionals, Faculty, and Students regarding the Implementation of an Agricultural Communications Degree Program in the United Kingdom."
Miller and his team interviewed various stakeholders, including faculty members, students, and potential employers, to find out what they would expect to see in a curriculum that was preparing students to be agricultural communications professionals.
The research revealed unanimous agreement on the need for such a program, emphasizing the importance of journalistic skills to accompany agricultural knowledge. Experiential learning also emerged as a critical component, with stakeholders highlighting the value of internships and practical placements.
Miller's research found that there was interest in both a bachelor's and a master's degree programs since neither of them currently exist. However, a new four-year honors bachelor’s program would prove to pose significant challenges.
"Not to say that that might not be the right thing to do down the road, but ... the master’s-level graduate certificates were the easiest to implement. So that was the route we took," Miller said.
Ultimately, Miller says the results of this research and the implementation of a curriculum help fulfill the need for academic training in agricultural communications.
“Programs like this help prepare people to be better at their jobs,” Miller said. “The profession already exists. And the best way to improve it is to get the academics that lead to that profession more organized.”
The initiative also hopes to increase female participation in agriculture. Miller says that about 80 percent of students seeking an agricultural communications program in the U.S. are female, and he sees similar potential in the U.K.
Program development and implementation
Miller and his colleagues are developing a series of microcertificates at SRUC that will lead to a proposal for a master’s program in agricultural communications. These certificates will cover various aspects of the field, integrating strong writing, reporting and technical communication skills.
He will travel to Edinburgh in the fall to help develop the graduate microcertificate curricula, which are expected to be ready for enrollment by fall 2025.
“I’ve been developing those relationships in Scotland since 2006,” Miller said. “This has been a long time coming. Developing a program in ag communications in the U.K. has been a goal of mine for a very long time.”
A vision for the future
Miller emphasized the importance of clear communication in the food industry, a sector crucial to human survival.
“Professionals in the food industry, policymakers, politicians, and government agencies across the globe are now recognizing the same thing that, hey, if we're going to keep our food supply safe, we're going to have to communicate to important stakeholders about the need to do that,” Miller said. “If we’re going to continue to feed our people, then we have to have open lines of communication with all kinds of different audiences about agriculture.”