Moving ‘Ag Forward’ (Editorial)

(April 12, 2016) Shortly after her appointment as interim director of the University of Maryland’s Institute of Applied Agriculture Glori Hyman attended a conference where she met the ag college dean of Michigan State University.
MSU had a two-year program integrated with the four-year degree program and the MSU dean gladly shared the details of how that was accomplished
That laid the groundwork for a program that would become Agriculture Forward, designed to help students pursuing a two-year IAA certificate transition to a four-year degree track in the university’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Now in its third year, Ag Forward is attracting students interested in Sustainable Agriculture and Agricultural Business Management certificates. Overall, IAA enrollment in the fall will reach a 10-year high with 70 students, Hyman added. There were 39 students in 2007.
Establishing Ag Forward turned out to be a long process. “I knew it was possible” she said, “but it has not been easy.”
As the program grows, Hyman said it could attract students from the four-year university to institute. “My next goal for the program is to implement the reverse,” Hyman said in 2014 when Ag Forward was established, “enabling students who enter the university as degree-seeking students to earn an IAA certificate as an add-on credential to their degree.”
Just recently, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Chesapeake College cut the ribbon on its two-year program for an Agriculture Associate of Applied Science degree, the first community college and two-year institution in Maryland to offer an agricultural sciences curriculum.
Set to start in the 2016 fall semester, the 60-credit program is designed to prepare students for a career in agriculture through course offerings that include horticulture, soil science, agricultural mechanics, animal science, agribusiness, marketing, economics, food systems, pest management and organic crop production.
The curriculum will also focus on helping students prepare for and pass state and national certification exams that are key to opening up agricultural employment opportunities, said Dr. Nicole Fiorellino, Chesapeake College curriculum developer for the agriculture program and post-doctoral research associate for the University of Maryland Environmental Science and Technology Department.
For students seeking additional education, Chesapeake is working on articulation agreements with four-year institutions in the region that offer agricultural and related sciences degrees.
Not to be forgotten is the long standing Agribusiness Management two-year degree program at Delaware Technical and Community College in Georgetown.
These added paths for students to enter the agriculture workforce come when jobs in the field have far outpaced the number of qualified applicants.
A 2015 USDA report showed tremendous demand for recent college graduates with a degree in agricultural programs with an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields in the United States. According to an employment outlook report recently released by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Purdue University, there is an average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher in agriculture related fields, 22,500 short of the jobs available annually.
With the amount of attention given to the challenges facing agriculture, especially in the Mid-Atlantic region, and the amount of technology rushing into the industry, work in agriculture is attractive to students who want to be part of the solution to feeding more than 9.7 billion in the next 40 years.
Clearly these programs are good options for students pursuing agricultural careers. But it will pay dividends for the state, region and industry as a whole.