By MEGGIE. I. FOSTER
RICHMOND, Ind. — In an increasingly high-tech, high-growth global industry, agriculture continues to demand a productive, efficient and knowledgeable workforce, according to Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture at Purdue University.
“As we look down the road, we see many challenges for the agriculture industry,” he said, referencing the expected population growth to 9 billion people by 2050 (world population now is 7 billion). “And by 2050, more than 70 percent of those people will live in cities.”
Akridge spoke recently at Ivy Tech Community College’s Emerging Opportunities with Ivy Tech and Agribusiness, an event on Feb. 1, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Ivy Tech ag program at the Richmond, Ind. campus.
“Food prices matter around the world,” he said. “While we spend less than 10 percent of our budget on food, that’s just not true when you move around the world. As income goes up, people eat more meat. They eat better and that drives up demand for ag products. So the question is where is this food going to come from and how are we going to better prepare the next generation to answer that question.”
The answers, Akridge explained, may include better utilization of current land, better processing and handling, storage, technology, genetics, weed control.
Hoping to fulfill the needs of coming generations in the agriculture industry with an educated and willing workforce is Tom Tully, agricultural program chair and assistant professor at Ivy Tech.
“We’re going to need people with good technical skills and hands-on training and you can get that here at Ivy Tech,” said Tully, who helped drive the success of the program since its launch in 2008.
According to Tully, the ag program at Ivy Tech has grown from zero to 75 in the span of only four years with 60 students of all ages currently enrolled in the program.
Under the School of Applied Science and Engineering Technology, students can apply for their associate of science degree or an associate of applied science. The associate of science degree provides students with a strong foundation of agriculture, math, science and general education courses. The associate of science program also prepares students to transfer into one of the Purdue University agriculture degree programs.
Meanwhile, the associate of applied science degree program allows students to apply concepts learned in the classroom, while developing connections with the agriculture industry.
Students are also able to focus on a specific concentration within each program area including: agriculture business management, agriculture equipment management, crop management and livestock management.
“Within our program, we tend to do a lot more hands-on coursework, more field trips; it’s really become a vital portion of our program,” said Tully, who added that the school has also recently included more course work in advanced crops, animal science – nutrition and reproductive physiology and horticulture.
Additionally, the Ivy Tech ag program manages a 25-acre field lab to learn farm field applications during spring planting and fall harvest.
“We’ve also witnessed a growth in our internship program,” said Tully. “Students have more of an interest in exploring the diversity of opportunities in the agriculture industry before they graduate.”
But according to Tully, most of the Ivy Tech ag students were not raised on the farm. In fact, nearly 70 percent of his students have a non-production ag background.
Wendy Mann, of Williamsburg, Ind. is a former 16-year employee of the medical industry that by unforeseen circumstances was forced to switch careers. So with a love for the outdoors, Mann turned to the Ivy Tech ag program and begin to explore a career in the agriculture industry.
While currently enrolled in the program, Mann has taken interest with Harvest Land Co-op as one of their 32 interns during the 2012-2013 school year.
“My decision was mainly based on the fact that the agriculture industry offers so many different job opportunities and careers,” said Mann. “I choose the Ivy Tech ag program to gain the knowledge and education necessary in order to be successful in the agriculture industry.”
In addition to providing a student perspective of the benefits of the Ivy Tech ag program, three potential employers provided brief presentations on what to expect in ag technology in the coming years and what kind of employees they will be hiring.
Bonnie Norris, manager of human resources at Harvest Land Co-op, a fuel and fertilizer company owned by 6,000 local stockholders, also described the changing workforce environment.
“When we go out to hire someone, we’re seeing folks 30 years in the profession,” she said. “Now there’s a whole range of ages and experiences. And there are fewer people with direct ties to agriculture as well.”
According to Akridge, in fact, there are currently 54,400 jobs available in the agriculture industry, with only 53,000 ag graduates on the market.
In terms of desirable attributes in an ag-tech graduate, Norris said that the ability to learn and communicate with a diverse range of groups is key, while common sense, the right attitude and the ability to synthesize and apply knowledge on the spot is equally important.
Additional speakers during the event included Kirk Thornburg, manager of Skyview Farm and Countryview Family Farms, a 2,800 sow hog operation in Lynn, Ind., and Matthew Eldridge, integrated solutions manager for Smith Implements, a John Deere equipment dealership headquartered in Greenfield, Ind.
“People matter in organizations and it doesn’t matter what kind of business you’re in,” said Akridge. “So how do you help prepare young men and women to make a difference, to make an impact.”
Perhaps, Ivy Tech may offer answers to that question in the form of their ag program in Richmond. Tully and his 60 ag students hope so.
For more information, visit www.ivytech.edu/richmond or call Tully at 765-966-2656, ext. 4103.