Agriculture Careers: Launching At Lethbridge

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It’s better that students learn from people who are experts, who can show them more than we could. Nobody can be an expert in everything, and we’re busy teaching.”

EDITH OLSON

LETHBRIDGE CHAIR OF AGRICULTURE PROGRAMS

If you want a solid education in irrigation and crops, Lethbridge College is an obvious choice, but it’s also a good fit if you want to keep your options open. Students in the faculty start by studying the basics of agriculture for a year before they decide on their main interest.

At the end of second year, students can decide whether to pursue further studies or go into the work force.

“We think our courses have it all,” says Edith Olson, chair of the program at the college. “We combine the basics that underlie all aspects of agriculture and a lot of hands-on farm-related work. Our students spend at least 40 per cent of their time doing labs and fieldwork. They spend a lot of time on real farms, discussing the farmer’s decisions and getting hands-on experience, actually doing things on real farms.”

Lethbridge College doesn’t have its own farm. Instead it has developed partnerships with leading farmers in the area. Olson sees this as a big advantage.

“These farmers welcome our students and allow them to help, under supervision, with whatever is going on, whether it be calving, lambing, seeding, spraying or a new machine,” she says. These are people who are making money in agriculture, people who can really tell the students what they see as new and exciting for their business.

The students learn from successful producers who are using the latest technology and justifying its costs.

“Some people think we should have our own farm, but I say, ‘we have lots of farms.’ I think we’d be doing our students a disservice by having our own farm. It’s better that students learn from people who are experts, who can show them more than we could. Nobody can be an expert in everything, and we’re busy teaching,” says Olson.

No first-year major

The college accepts about 40 students each year, and for the first year, students don’t choose a major. They take courses that range from communications to food science and business law, accounting and marketing to introductions to the scientific foundations of farming – botany, soil resources and management and irrigation, as well as animal physiology and pasture management.

Before the end of the year, they also get a farm safety course and first aid – courses geared to helping them get a summer job that gives them a better understanding of their own interests and aptitudes and the sort of career and the agricultural field that will fit them best.

In their second year, courses are more specialized. Students choose animal science or crops and soil science. Some students move out of the obviously farm-related fields into microbiology or biotechnology.

Olson credits this to the renovated science building, which has facilities for anatomy, physiology and sciences. There are also new growth chambers and greenhouses to help student see the real opportunities in agriculture today. Some students opt for environmental sciences, some of which are taught in the same building as agriculture classes.

Practical experience

Students attend practical extension courses such as AI and preg-checking as well as farm conferences where they learn about the latest research, and the college’s own Tiffin Conference, which features world-renowned speakers with big-picture views of agriculture.

At the end of two years, many students return to family farms. Others launch their careers within agricultural corporations, seed companies, irrigation suppliersand many other businesses. “Companies tell is they like our diploma graduates because they’re highly trainable,” says Olson. “We teach academic theory, so our students can find what they like to do and move into that field.”

Some students use their college diploma to transfer directly into third-year courses at the Universities of Lethbridge or Alberta, or Brigham Young University in Utah. The University of Saskatchewan doesn’t have a formal agreement with U of S because its agriculture faculty offers so many options, but it considers each student’s college credits on a case-by-case basis.

For some students, the most obvious advantage of taking two years at college and transferring to university is that tuition costs less at the college. But there are others, particularly smaller classes that make the transition from high school to higher education easier. “Wherever a student feels is their best career path, we aim to open up options in agriculture for them,” says Olson.

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