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Not all DSU ag majors are geared to 'cows and plows'

The idea that agriculture majors at Dickinson State University will lead students back to farms and ranches isn't right, said Chip Poland, chair of DSU's Department of Agriculture and Technical Studies.

Poland said only the integrated ranch management and integrated farm management specialties, which enroll about one-third of the department's students, are geared to the traditional "cows and plows."

DSU offers both bachelor of science and associate degrees. Students have to choice between several specialties under those degree programs -- business and marketing, integrated ranch management, integrated farm management, natural resource management, range management, soil science and equine.

DSU also offers an international agribusiness option, but no students are enrolled in it yet.

Looking outside the farm, Poland said about one-fourth to one-third of ag students are in business and marketing.

"Those graduates are looking toward owning or managing a business that is agriculturally related, or looking at ag finance, like ag loan officer or farm credit," Poland said. "In that business and marketing option, about half are looking at managing a ag-related business and the other half are looking at banking and financing."

Another one-third of DSU ag graduates focus on natural resource management, range management and soil science, Poland said.

"Those programs are geared toward government services careers, like with U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, that deal with either management of arable farmland, crop acres or federal lands," he said.

Kayla Kessler, of Stanton, has been using coursework from her natural resource management and range management specialty at DSU to aid her in several summers of work with the National Park Service. She plans to continue working for the park service this summer.

"An ag degree in North Dakota is more and more useful every day," she said. "There are many jobs that have an ag background and it helps to have the knowledge, regardless of what fields you go into or what job you take."

Joey Tigges, director of development for the North Dakota Farm Bureau in Fargo, said students in North Dakota who have agriculture degrees find they have opportunities in the state.

While degrees aren't always necessary, she said it is strongly recommended.

"The students learn so much at college that you won't learn growing up on a farm, such as managing expenses, balancing profits/losses and even different varieties of crops or reproductive knowledge in their livestock," she said. "A four-year degree will just make a person a better business entrepreneur and that's what farming and ranching is -- a business."

Though popular, Poland said students who enroll in the equine specialty tend not to stay in it long.

"In the B.S. program, they're usually not here long before they realize that horses are their passion, but they aren't horribly employable," he said. "Many of our students may leave their hometowns after graduation but stay in the region, and there aren't many equine-related jobs for it. Nationally, there are jobs in the field, but they have to leave the region to find it."

What students don't need to leave the region to find are profitable jobs in the oilfields, which Poland said look to recruit students like those in DSU's ag department -- someone from a rural background who is fairly industrious, likes being outside and doesn't mind working long hours.

"When recruiting for workers in the oilfield, you're recruiting the kind of person we always talk to," Poland said. "That said, I don't believe the oil activity in western North Dakota right now has hurt our incoming student numbers, at least they're not declining."

If the oilfield has had an impact on enrollment, Poland said it is with upperclassmen.

"If there is a new market out there and it looks like it has potential, we teach students that they can't just sit out there and look at it," he said. "We teach them to reach out and evaluate if it is truly an opportunity and if it is, determine how to build enough confidence to reach out and get it. By the time they're getting ready to graduate that get that, but in cases like leaving school for work in the oilfields, sometimes you just want to say, 'Just not yet.'"