A recent estimate by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that we will need to produce 60% more food to feed a world population of 9.3 billion by 2050. To feed the growing population more efficiently and effectively, the FAO has set a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Agribusiness will play a key role in meeting those goals.
When people hear the word agriculture, they typically think about farming. While farming is at the heart of the agricultural industry, agribusiness refers to farming and so much more. In addition to agricultural producers, agribusiness includes the businesses and individuals that provide farmers with their inputs (feed, seed, fertilizer, chemicals, equipment, technology, financing, insurance), and the output marketing system (processing, manufacturing, transportation, packaging, wholesaling, retailing) that transforms agricultural commodities into products desired by consumers. With increasing globalization and constantly-evolving technologies, agricultural jobs are changing. Those in agribusiness use their knowledge of economics and their decision-making skills to make an impact in the agricultural industry – a sector that contributes to almost all of the SDGs.
One program that has mastered the art of bridging agriculture and business is the Online Master of Agricultural and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. The program offers eight concentrations in the areas of Agribusiness, Applied Animal Behavior and Welfare, Applied Nutrition and Physical Activity, Education, Environmental Science, Food Safety and Biosecurity, Leadership Studies, and Plant Science and Pest Management.
While all programs lead to a tremendous impact in the ever-evolving agricultural sector, the Agribusiness concentration in particular will give graduates the chance to tackle the global food crisis by way of enhancing the farm-to-table process. Realizing that today’s agribusiness leaders need to be more innovative and more involved in all processes, VT offers OMALS students the chance to develop their skills in management, marketing, economics, finance, policy, and quantitative analysis through their Agribusiness courses.
They do so with the help and support of great educators. “In our department, we work hard to share with each student our personal touch,” says Professor and Head of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Dr. Matthew Holt. “Even though the courses are offered asynchronously and remotely, our faculty is dedicated to meeting with each student as needed.”
Virginia Tech alumna and faculty member, Dr. Dixie Dalton agrees: “Faculty members are readily available to meet by phone or Zoom to discuss student interests and to ensure the best preparation for their ultimate career goals. We also have years of experience teaching in the online modality with students acknowledging the highly engaging format of the online courses.”
The program is suitable for professionals who want to gain the skills to stand out in the competitive field of agribusiness. Courses such as Strategic Agribusiness Management and Agribusiness Marketing Policy and Business Strategy will prepare students for the challenges of the agribusiness supply chain and the international marketplace by equipping them with sound economic knowledge.
The diversified field of agribusiness requires education with a more general and global approach – which is what the International Agricultural Development and Trade course provides. It covers topics like the role of agriculture in economic development, strategies on how to modernize agriculture, and the effect of existing policies on economic growth. Upon completion of this course, students will be able to analyze as well as contribute to agricultural and, subsequently, economic development.
Young professionals stand to benefit most from the OMALS program because it is 100% online. This flexibility allows those who are already professionals in the field to enhance their prospects without having to sacrifice years that might otherwise be beneficial for their careers. “This is an important consideration that helps the OMALS program stand out. Online students have access to all of the resources at Virginia Tech. These include fantastic library facilities, mental health support and career guidance,” confirms Holt.
This mode of teaching allows students not only to work in their own time but to also focus on other things, like starting a business. Dalton, who previously spent 17 years teaching and advising for VT’s Agricultural Economics undergraduate program, shares that the graduate Agribusiness concentration was designed to offer real-world applications of the course content. This greatly helps students who may be facing the same scenarios in their workplace. Furthermore, many course assignments allow students to apply the content to a current work situation. For students who choose to pursue the graduate degree right out of their undergraduate program, this approach will help to fully prepare them for the agribusiness workplace.
Agribusiness student, Rachel Sandri, chose the OMALS degree to enhance her skills in the food and wine industry. She shared, “This program has given me the tools to move forward in my career in food and wine while simultaneously pursuing my Master’s degree. The Agribusiness concentration has enriched my understanding of the complexities of the farming and food industry that have been tremendously helpful in bridging communities and conversations within my industry. I could not have asked for a better fit than Virginia Tech!”
According to Dalton, OMALS students benefit from Virginia Tech’s rich network as well. Faculty members have developed a network of graduates and contacts within the agribusiness industry, something those enrolling in the program can capitalize on when they graduate. Dalton notes that the good thing about the agribusiness field is that it offers numerous career opportunities with positions in both the private sector and government agencies .
Graduates of the Agribusiness concentration can look forward to fulfilling careers as extension agents, managers in agribusiness firms, farm managers, economists, agribusiness consultants, and project managers.
For those interested in finding out more about the OMALS program, click here.