In a state with fertile soil and a rich tradition of farming and breeding, it is no wonder that there are more than six thriving higher education programs that promote the future of agriculture to Kentucky’s youth.
Universities across the Bluegrass State – including the University of Kentucky, Eastern Kentucky University, Murray State University, Western Kentucky University, Morehead State University and Kentucky State University – turn out agriculture professionals prepared for careers on and off the farm.
An Industry Changes
“Agriculture isn’t just about farming anymore,” says Dr. Larry Grabau, associate dean for academic programs at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “We offer more academic programs in careers off the farm than we do on. That’s just how the industry is changing.”
And just as the careers available in the agriculture industry change and evolve, so do the students applying to Kentucky’s higher education programs.
Students’ Need to Evolve
“This week we had more than 100 students from primarily rural school districts,” Grabau says. “But early next month, we’ll have a visit from a busload of urban students from Chicago.”
He continues, “We try to tailor our educational programs to meet the needs of different kinds of students, but we believe that our majors are designed to be attractive to students from a wide variety of backgrounds.”
On UK’s main campus in Lexington, students can choose from one of 18 undergraduate degree programs ranging from agriculture biotechnology and agriculture economics to human nutrition, landscape architecture and sustainable agriculture.
The school has recently instituted a new academic enrichment requirement which gets students involved in one area of interest outside of agriculture before they graduate. This may mean a research project, an internship, an education abroad course or another creative opportunity.
Morehead State University in northeastern Kentucky offers an interesting opportunity for students at their Derrickson Agricultural Complex. The 325-acre farm is home to a state-of-the-art Equine Health Education Center, an indoor riding and livestock arena, a small animal hospital, kennel facilities and is home to 24 students year-round. Students can gain valuable practical, hands-on experience as they study toward earning one of Morehead’s 11 undergraduate agriculture degrees.
Programs Make Change
Beyond maintaining solid relationships with those in the agriculture industry, Kentucky universities also find it important to continue evolving their programs to match the ever-changing agricultural landscape around them.
Eastern Kentucky University has made significant changes in its academic programs to better incorporate changes in food production,
the human environment, and energy production and management.
There’s also been a shift in emphasis to small and medium-sized agriculture enterprises, since they are more prevalent. All this has been made possible through changes in personnel, degree programs and course content, as well as upgrades in facilities and teaching farms.
The school also encourages more internships and research activities for its students.
Kentucky State University’s College of Agriculture, Food Science, and Sustainable Systems offers degree programs at both an undergraduate and graduate level.
Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture, Food, and Environment with different four option areas including: Agriculture Systems, Food Systems, Environmental Systems and Aquaculture Systems.
Graduate degree programs in aquaculture and environmental studies are producing well-prepared leaders in these growing fields.
KSU also offers land grant programs in community research and cooperative extension allowing for a wide range of internship and long-term employment opportunities.
Across the state in western Kentucky, Murray State University Hutson School of Agriculture Dean Dr. Tony Brannon stresses the importance of continuing-education programs in the local ag community.
The just-opened Arboretum at Murray State is just one of several community resources that encourage the public to connect with agriculture.
“Our newest initiative is a cooperative educational venture called West Kentucky Bioworks,” Brannon says.
This initiative aims to establish a demonstration center where farmers and others can see how to grow, process and utilize biomass crops, as well as to create a farmer network to transfer the research to farms.
Murray State offers nine academic degrees with varying areas of focus such as agronomy, horticulture, equine science and the nationally-accredited veterinary technology program.
Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green also offers a wide range of opportunities for rural and urban students, giving them ample career choices for after they graduate. Students can get work experience in a full-service floral shop at the university’s Floral Design Training Center and Floral Shop. They have the opportunity to learn about viticulture both in the classroom and outside in the vineyards. Soon, WKU students will even be able to experience cheese making at the school’s Cheese Production facility.
Speaking for all of the educational institutions across the state, Dr. Brannon sums up the importance of agricultural education programs. “We change as the industry does,” he says. “Our job is to emphasize the importance of secondary agriculture education and to help increase emphasis on college and career readiness in Kentucky.”