The future in agriculture

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Montcalm_future_agriculture

Montcalm Community College and Michigan State University are partnering to offer specialized training locally for careers in agriculture.

This fall, MCC began offering MSU’s two-year programs in agricultural operations, applied horse science, fruit and crop management and landscape management. An agreement between MCC and MSU’s Institute of Agricultural Technology (IAT) will help students earn an associate degree at MCC while at the same time earning a two-year certificate at MSU. This partnership allows students to access resources in academics, financial aid, career services and student life at both institutions.

Michigan’s agricultural sector has experienced steady growth in recent years, contributing more than $100 billion to the state’s economy in 2014, up from $71.3 billion in 2009. Currently, 50,000 agriculture jobs are available annually, but only 25,000 students graduate from agriculture schools each year.

Merry Kim Meyers_KP

Merry Kim Meyers

MSU Regional Program Coordinator Merry Kim Meyers works on MCC’s Sidney campus, assisting students with agriculture career planning, professional internship placement, financial aid decisions and enrolling in necessary courses. She says the program is perfect for recent high school graduates or for those who are seeking retraining for a new career opportunity.

“There is a place in agriculture for everyone with the right education, skills and enthusiasm,” Meyers says.  “Agriculture in our county is our heritage, and it is also our future. We know how important it is to us in everyday life, and we’re working to enhance what we do with education to make it an even brighter future for us,” adds Meyers, who brings nearly 20 years of agricultural education expertise to the college as well as a lifetime of experience, having been raised on her family’s dairy farm.

In addition to a cost savings whereby students pay MCC’s tuition rate while attending the college, yet earn dual-enrollment credits with MSU, Meyers says every student involved in the program will complete an agricultural internship.

“The opportunity to gain hands-on knowledge will set them apart from those who only have classroom instruction,” she says.

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Connecting with students

Bayley Wolfe, of Cedar Springs, is in her first semester at MCC. She says she is “exploring her options” to determine if she wants to pursue a career in agricultural law or in elementary education.

bayley_wolfe

Bayley Wolfe

Raised on a farm, Wolfe says her family’s agricultural heritage has been passed down by her parents and grandparents. As a member of the Montcalm County 4-H program, Wolfe enjoys participating in horse, swine, beef and shooting sports.

“I’ve learned a lot of leadership skills and responsibility through 4-H,” she says.

On her quest to further her education, Wolfe is going to work for a local attorney who specializes in agricultural law. She hopes that experience, combined with her coursework at MCC, will help her make the decision of which career path she will pursue.

“This is a great opportunity for people who already know they have a connection with the earth and animals to explore their options,” Meyers says.

Expanding resources

This fall, MCC was awarded a $90,350 Strategic Growth Initiative grant by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) to support the college’s growing agriculture program.

The funds will be used to build a greenhouse on MCC’s Sidney campus to enhance curriculum in the field of agricultural sciences. In addition to construction of the greenhouse, the grant will fund joint program development initiatives between MCC and MSU.

According to Vice President for Student & Academic Affairs Rob Spohr, planning is under way for the greenhouse and construction is expected to be completed in the spring, with the greenhouse operational by summer 2016.

“The greenhouse will support existing coursework in crop and soil science, and botany,” Spohr says. “It also will create opportunities for new programming to be developed.”

According to figures from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Michigan ranks second in the nation for agricultural diversity, producing more than 300 agricultural commodities and exporting more than one-third of those commodities every year. Montcalm County ranks No. 1 in the state for revenue from vegetable sales and fourth in the state for revenue from milk and other dairy products. Ionia and Gratiot counties rank fifth and sixth, respectively, for overall revenue for agricultural production, topping $751 million.

“We live in an agricultural area, and there is need for training to grow our workforce,” says MCC President Bob Ferrentino. “These programs will help students gain the basic skills they need to be employable in a variety of agricultural professions.

“There are tremendous opportunities for employment across the agriculture sector,” he adds.

-  Shelly Strautz-Springborn

COMING TO MCC Fall 2016 in partnership with MSU:

Pre-Animal Health Technology A.A.S.

Pre-Animal Health Technology Certificate

Preveterinary Certificate

ESTIMATED EARNINGS

Agricultural and food scientists

MEDIAN WAGES  (2012) $28.18 hourly $58,610 annually

Agricultural engineers

MEDIAN WAGES  (2012) $35.58 hourly $74,000 annually

Farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers

MEDIAN WAGES  (2012) $33.32 hourly $69,300 annually

Landscape architects

MEDIAN WAGES  (2012) $30.86 hourly $64,180 annually

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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