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Sustainable Plant Production concentration

See also: Course requirements for the Sustainability concentration


  • Intended to provide intensive working knowledge and hands-on experience in the commercial production of plants, including field, fruit, vegetable, nursery and greenhouse crops.
  • Gain the experience needed to produce crops in a sustainable matter on farm or greenhouses, start your own business, or join the workforce.
  • Coursework includes core Plant Science material as well as courses tailored to focus on the fundamentals like soils and pest management as well as electives in your crop production areas of interest to provide a solid education.

Importance of Sustainable Plant Production:

  • The need for sustainable agricultural production of field crops, greenhouse plants, and vegetables is as relevant today as it has ever been.
  • The changing climate poses daily changes and challenges that have to be addressed to continue to meet the world’s demand for food and plants in general.
  • “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it." -- Robert Swan

Why concentrate in Sustainable Plant Production?

Sarah Marino, one of our current Plant Sciences students, is pursuing her interests in plants through the sustainability concentration. She writes:

"I have a very broad interest in plant science, but recently I’ve focused more on hydroponics, aquaponics, and general greenhouse production. Here at Cornell, we have many resources for students wanting to explore these subjects: We have a hydroponics class, a greenhouse crop management class, professors working and doing research in these areas (e.g., Neil Mattson and William Miller), and even clubs for each specific interest (e.g., Hortus Forum and the Hydroponics Club).

"My interests stem from working in a greenhouse during my summers in high school at a farm with a focus on sustainable farm-to-table practices. My responsibilities included propagation, transplanting, plant-bed preparation and harvesting, plus communicating with chefs to find both flavorful and aesthetically pleasing greenhouse crops. I think it's vital to educate the public on where their food comes from and how it's being grown and processed.  There is such a disconnect these days between the consumer and the environmental impact of our food choices, and I think it's important to bridge that gap, especially with our rapidly changing climate.

"I feel that in terms of crop production, agriculture is moving towards greenhouses and hydroponics and aquaponics, at least in New England.  I think it's becoming more and more relevant to learn about these practices and find new ways to extend the growing season sustainably and adjust to the highly variable weather patterns. The world will be vastly different by the time I graduate, and even more so 5-10 years down the line.  With the sustainability concentration, I feel that I will learn current practices in my areas of interest as well as learn to grow and adapt with the changing climate."

Career options:

  • Academia (Universities)
    • Conduct research projects through grants
    • Teach others in the field, lab, or classroom
    • Extension education: Work with farmers to improve their crops
    • Engage and interact with students while doing research on the side
  • Conservatory work
    • Manage plants for private or public gardens and conservatories
    • Conservatories are popular in large cities (parks and indoor areas), universities, and private home collections
  • Entrepreneurship
    • Launch your own farm that incorporates field crops, greenhouses, and/or produce market into a business
    • Maximize profit by finding a balance between vegetable production, nursery/plant propagation, and/or field crops   
  • Government
    • Work for regulatory agencies such as the USDA, EPA, or state extension services
    • Research plants to improve farming practices
    • Advise farmers and greenhouse growers
  • Greenhouse (large scale), nursery, family farm/greenhouse complex
    • Job tasks: greenhouse operations, management, planting, upgrading equipment, fertilizing plants, watering
    • Work for commercial grower who supplies plants to major retailers or sells the plants themselves (large scale greenhouse operation or nursery, respectively)
    • Contribute to the family farm/greenhouse with more knowledge to increase crop yield and/or plant propagation
  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profits
    • Support programs launched by organization
    • Travel to other countries to help others obtain better crop yields and teach sustainable agricultural practices


  • Cooperate Extension educator ($30-80K)
  • Bachelor’s Degree ($40-80K)
  • Master’s Degree ($65K and up)
  • Doctorate (>$70K)
  • Entrepreneurship (varies)

Suggested Courses

  • AEM 1200, Introduction to Business Management
  • AEM 3020, Farm Business Management
  • PLHRT 4730, Ecology of Agricultural Systems