Olds College — Preparing Students For More Than One Career

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“It’s a much more regulated business and farmers will have to meet more requirements and adapt to tighter market specifications. It will take a sharp pencil and the ability to adapt and see things differently to be successful.”

neil french

program co-ordinator

af CONTRIBUTOR

“Ten years from now, most of our students will have different jobs from those they’re taking after graduation,” says Neil French, co-ordinator of the agriculture program at Olds College. “Even among students who really believe they know where they’re going, most will be doing something different. We want to give students a good general background in all areas of agriculture so they are ready for these switches.”

French says there will even be change for students who go back to the farm.

“It’s a much more regulated business and farmers will have to meet more requirements and adapt to tighter market specifications. It will take a sharp pencil and the ability to adapt and see things differently to be successful.”

The college has revamped its diploma course as Agriculture Management, with separate streams for livestock, crops, marketing and finance.

More than half the students opt for the animal or crop production streams. They also study finance and marketing, but not in as much depth as students in those streams. The rationale is that all students need to have some understanding of all areas of agriculture to do well.

A student who focuses mainly on finance learns economics and financial subjects, but also marketing, which may be marketing to farmers or marketing farm produce, and some production.

“Marketing is much bigger than sales,” says French. “It’s about building relationships with people. It’s a growing area

with great demand for people with technical expertise as well as marketing skills.”

Finance graduates find eager employers in banks and equipment companies where solid financial training combined with knowledge of and interest in agriculture are highly valued. Finance students, about a quarter of each class, learn to analyze a business and assess risk so they can advise on such things as succession planning, leasing versus buying and various types of investment.

Some students opt for an applied degree in agribusiness, which involves two years at the college followed by a year of work experience.

The college runs a job fair every year, and recently industry representatives have asked for it to be held in the fall so they can recruit earlier.

Practical skills

The college has a farm that includes 2,500 acres of land and a 180-cow beef herd, a 600-head feedlot and a bull-test centre. Students gain practical skills and use the farm’s real life examples in their classroom work. “We do as much as we can on the farm,” says French. “It helps students really understand the need for things like accounting. We also have them take their accounting software home so they can use it for some real hands-on education.”

The college also caters to students interested in a wide range of other agriculture-related businesses from animal health and equestrian fields to horticulture and environmental sciences. It has greenhouse facilities, mainly used in its extensive horticulture programs, but students can add greenhouse production to their studies as elective courses. The college also has a provincially inspected meat plant where students can learn how to take beef, hogs and lambs from live animals to retail market-ready cuts, including value-added products.

Equine centre

The new Canadian Equine Centre for Innovation is home base for horsemanship and coaching in English and Western riding, horse breeding and production, groom and jockey training, a new two-year diploma for farriers, and business and event-management courses.

Through its close relationships with industry, Olds College gets many requests for students with particular skills and courses for people already in various fields. College staff have become expert in developing courses to meet these needs. Next year, a new stream is being added to the ag management course – bioprocessing, the use of farm products for food and industrial purposes such as biofuels and bioplastics.

The college has also developed online and face-to-face short courses for pesticide applicators, crop scouts, seed industry staff, agronomists and others. It also runs courses for farmers and industry people, including an annual integrated pest management school, courses on AgExpert, FCC’s computerized farm management system, and seminars.

“You’re never too old for college. says Mary Jane Block, coordinator of continuing education in agriculture. “Come for a day, come for a short course. You’ll enjoy it and you’ll learn.”

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