Ag a growing field with MSU at SMC

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SWMich_agricultureSouthwestern Michigan College expects to enroll 35 students this fall as the new regional home of Michigan State University Ag Tech.

A new report shows tremendous demand for recent college graduates with degrees in agricultural programs, with an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environment fields.

According to the employment outlook from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Agriculture (NIFA) 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 jobs available annually.

“There is incredible opportunity for highly-skilled jobs in agriculture,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Those receiving degrees in agricultural fields can expect to have ample career opportunities.

“Not only will those who study agriculture be likely to get well-paying jobs upon graduation, they will also have the satisfaction of working in a field that addresses some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

“These jobs will only become more important as we continue to develop solutions to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050,” Vilsack said.

The report projects almost half of job opportunities will be in management and business.

Another 27 percent will be in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Jobs in food and biomaterials production make up 15 percent.

Twelve percent of openings will be in education, communication and governmental services.

The report shows women make up more than half of the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environmental higher education graduates in the United States.

Expect to see a strong employment market for e-commerce managers and marketing agents, ecosystem managers, agricultural science and business educators, crop advisors and pest control specialists.

STEM-area opportunities are seen growing, with the strongest job market expected for plant scientists, food scientists, sustainable biomaterials specialists, water resources scientists and engineers, precision agriculture specialists and veterinarians.

At SMC agricultural operations certificates shape up as most popular, as predicted, followed by applied horse science and fruit and vegetable crop management.


Ag Tech Program Coordinator Stacey Rocklin, a 1991 MSU horticulture graduate, said one fruit and vegetable crop management student from Chicago got interested through the family’s Berrien County summer home.

Michigan produces more than 300 commodities on a commercial basis, including tart cherries, blueberries, dry beans, floriculture products and cucumbers for pickles.

“Some students have been in ag all along and know exactly where they want to go,” Rocklin said, “but one seminar course I teach is designed specifically to explore options.”

This partnership helps students earn MSU certificates while working toward associate degrees.

Students take at least 21 credits from SMC recognized by MSU toward completion of a certificate, significantly lowering the overall cost.

Five MSU certificates offered through the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Institute of Agricultural Technology also include viticulture and landscape management.

MSU certificates fit within one SMC Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree.

Certificate programs consist of 48 credits (27 MSU, 21 SMC, all packaged within the 60-credit AAS).

Students who continue at MSU can transfer their courses and receive preferential admittance.

A Michigan Transfer Agreement-compliant degree means students can move general education credits anywhere in Michigan.


Board of Trustees Secretary William M. White congratulating honor graduate Eliza Carpenter.

“What’s better today is articulation agreements to transfer,” according to SMC Board of Trustees Secretary William M. White.

White, coming out of Cassopolis High School in 1968, attended SMC and MSU.

The father of five’s two sons and farming partners, Jon and Andy, also attended MSU.

The Whites operate a farrow-to-finish hog operation, growing corn to feed livestock in southeastern Cass County.

White, an SMC board member since 1992, said community college cost savings are more significant today than when he went to college, plus students today have the added option of living on campus in one of three residence halls.

White Hall was named for him on Aug. 19, 2013.

White sees the SMC-MSU partnership as a gateway to related fields, from food processing to packaging.

CANR encompasses 13 departments and 20 majors, including packaging, agribusiness management, agricultural food and natural resources education, animal science, biosystems engineering, construction management, crop and soil sciences, dietetics, entomology, environmental economics and management, environmental studies and sustainability, fisheries and wildlife, food industry management, food science, forestry, horticulture, landscape architecture, nutritional sciences, sustainable parks, recreation and tourism, even interior design.

“Our third partner is the online viticulture alliance in 17 states,” Rocklin said. “We focus on giving non-traditional students a pathway to a career so they don’t have to step away from their families. They can do it at their own pace.”

VESTA, or the Viticulture Enology Science and Technology Alliance, is a national grape and wine education program combining the flexibility of online instruction, instructor-guided education from industry professionals and crucial hands-on experience under the guidance of an experienced mentor at a vineyard or winery close to where a student lives.

Michigan ranks fourth nationally in overall grape production and 13th in wine grape production, contributing nearly $790 million to the state’s economy.

The next new program MSU is readying for 2016 approval is agriculture regulations and compliance.

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