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Ag degree equals options

Dickinson State University graduating seniors, from left, Matthew Ruland, of Ross; Kayla Kessler, of Stanton; Lee Holliday, of Billings, Mont.; and Andrew Wasserburger, of Lusk, Wyo., chat April 26 in the DSU ag department office following their interview with The Dickinson Press about their degrees and plans for after graduation next week.

When Matthew Ruland was growing up in Ross, he would wonder why his family performed particular tasks on their ranch.

Commonly, he said, the responses were simple: "Because" and "That's the way it's always been done."

Then, Ruland, who owns a ranch, came to Dickinson State University for an agriculture studies degree with an integrated ranch management option, which he will receive next week when he graduates.

"My degree has given me a reason why the old-timers would say, 'Because this is what has to be done,'" he said. "The classes I've taken have covered the entire agricultural industry, from sales and service to animal science to economics. It has really helped me learn a lot of new methods, opinions and ways to operate that I can take home and make things a lot easier on myself."

The next DSU class to enter the agriculture field -- be it as farmers, ranchers or businesspersons -- graduate May 11.

To enhance his classroom knowledge, Ruland said he has 10 summers under his belt working at an ag implement dealership that helped him learn the mechanical side of agriculture.

It is the business side that Lee Holliday, of Shepherd, Mont., learned from his ag business degree, and he plans to make use of in Billings, Mont., at his father's agriculture sales and service business.

"I knew if I was going to go to school, I would study agriculture and what I would learn would be something I could take home and use," Holliday said. "I someday hope to take it over or buy him out, so I decided to get an ag business degree. The business department would have prepared me for the business part, but not for the agricultural part."

Andrew Wasserburger, of Lusk, Wyo., who left school for two years and returned to complete his senior project and earn his degree, said the classes already helped when he returned to his family's Wyoming ranch for a while.

"I think earning the ag degree helps you to understand things better and it makes you more knowledgeable about what you're doing," said Wasserburger, who will return to the ranch after earning his degree. "I came here for ag studies integrated ranch management degree to help learn more of the paperwork side of the business."

For students looking to operate farms and ranches, Chip Poland, chair of DSU's Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies, said an ag degree adds another layer of knowledge.

"Their grandfathers may argue that they didn't have it and their parents, depending on how they got into farming and ranching, may come up with the same conclusion," he said. "I would argue that farming and ranching, as it is done in North Dakota, struggles with being qualified as a large business, but it certainly is bigger than the typical small business and margins are so tight now that they really have to operate it as a business to be successful. There isn't enough money in there for a lot of mistakes."