It’s a paradox of our times. The smaller the number of farmers we have, the more agriculture-related careers crop up.
Ninety-five students from Covert High School, Van Buren Tech, Eau Claire, Cassopolis and Countryside Academy near Benton Harbor learned at Southwestern Michigan College’s annual Agriculture Careers Day Feb. 12, “The number of farms peaked in the 1940s,” Dr. Ron Goldy said, “but the average size of each farm has gone up to about 450 acres. There are farms with tens of thousands of acres as farmers sell to other farmers, but the number of farmers has gone down drastically. About 1.7 percent are directly involved in farming, compared to 90 percent in the 1800s.”
At the same time, one of every 12 U.S. jobs relates to farming. That’s 22 million positions. There are more than 50,000 jobs available every year, Goldy said, “and there are not enough qualified graduates to fill those jobs” in farm or greenhouse management, food science, engineering agricultural equipment, robotics for mechanical harvesting, field pest scouts, packaging, research, inspections, farm equipment sales and service, journalism for farm publications, agricultural law, chemical and seed companies, produce brokerages and the Peace Corps.
“There may not be many farmers anymore, but you have agencies that serve farmers and agencies that take what farmers produce and doing something with it so it can be useful to consumers,” Goldy said. “A number of growers in this area go two to three times a week to Chicago to market crops directly to farm markets. Drones are a way to reduce the amount of labor. Row crops are highly mechanized to where I could handle 1,000 acres. Vertical farming works well for leafy vegetables. You have driverless tractors. Cows aren’t hand-milked, you have rotating platforms.”
Based on their interests, students at Ag Day could choose any three of eight different breakout sessions arranged by Stacey Rocklin, regional program coordinator for the Michigan State University Institute of Agricultural Technology at SMC.
These included an overview of animal careers with Deb Barrett, Berrien County Extension educator; veterinary sciences with Dr. Kathy Koudele; environmental stewardship with Van Buren Conservation District’s Nor Serocki, invasive species coordinator for Van Buren, Cass and Berrien counties; drones with Matt Quinn; Creative Landscaping’s Ryan Howard; plant health with Mike Reinke, Berrien County Extension integrated pest management educator; fruit and vegetable production with Goldy, Extension educator at the Research and Extension Center outside Benton Harbor; and educational opportunities highlighted by students Shaelyn Bundy from Dowagiac and Andie Lee from Hudson.
“Growing up, I wanted to be a large-animal vet. I was in Van Buren Tech FFA,” Bundy said. “SMC has a phenomenal ag program and we’re blessed to be able to partner with MSU, so definitely take advantage if you decide to come here. On this campus we will be offering agribusiness, fruit and vegetable production and ag operations. It was cool learning how to harvest honey from our beehive. We sold it, with the money going back to our club so we can go on field trips and to conferences. Collegiate Farm Bureau is kind of like FFA for adults.
“I’m doing an associate degree through SMC and MSU, then transferring to Ferris State University, which is also on this campus, to finish my business degree. I’ll graduate, start to finish, with a bachelor’s degree in ag business,” Bundy said.
Lee is transitioning from agricultural operations into agribusiness. She belonged to FFA through the Lenawee ISD Tech Center in Adrian and Hillsdale County 4-H.
“Right now I work for MSU Extension” in Berrien County, Lee said, which resulted from her summer AmeriCorps STEAM Corps internship providing science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics youth programming.
The SMC/MSU partnership makes earning an MSU certificate more affordable, as students are able to take SMC courses — and pay SMC’s low tuition rate — for a portion of the program, plus scholarships and financial aid are also available.
SMC awards 10 $2,500 scholarships each year to students who have been involved in FFA or an agricultural program through the Edward A. Guse Agricultural Scholarship.
The George Wuszke Memorial Agricultural Scholarship awards $1,000 to two qualified students in the MSU Institute of Agricultural Technology in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).