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Representing the future of ag entrepreneurship, the first cohort of the new Lethbridge College Agricultural Enterprise Management (AEM) program has hit the books. Graduates will earn diplomas that will set them up for careers in food and supply-chain management, agricultural economics, sales and marketing and even agricultural policy and regulation. They also have the option of completing a bachelor of management degree with a minor in agricultural enterprise at the University of Lethbridge.

Dennis Sheppard, past dean of the Lethbridge College Centre for Applied Management explained there are advantages to both paths. “The two-year path is a relatively quick, in-and-out option to reach extensive, exciting career opportunities,” he said. “With this business focus and the option to continue on, it will also attract students who would not have otherwise considered ag as a viable industry to work in. Potentially, we’ll see a lot more students from major urban centres.”

The AEM program differs from traditional college-level agriculture programs in that it teaches the theoretical foundations of business required for higher university studies while embracing the practical skills courses typical of college-level programs. While focused on the business side of agriculture, students engage in real- world problem solving, dissecting case studies and conducting research.

Guided by instructors, students will concoct hypothetical research projects incorporating accounting, economics, marketing and management. Some will use their own farms as models. Mandy Gabruch, the program’s head instructor, has assigned similar tasks to students in the past and they have devised a wide range of projects.

“One project incorporated sheep into a cow-calf grazing rotation to better utilize forage,” she said. “Students have also added an agri-tourism enterprise to a farm, transitioned to certified organic production and adopted the use of artificial insemination into a cow-calf operation.”

Such entrepreneurial innovation is the heart of the AEM program, which is part of the Cor Van Raay Southern Alberta Agribusiness Program, established in 2014 with a $5 million donation from its namesake southern Alberta cattle farmer and agricultural entrepreneur. Van Raay’s gift has increased collaboration between the college and the university. It also aims to guarantee leadership status for southern Alberta in the agriculture industry and it responds to the increasing demand for agribusiness professionals in the region.

The richness of the growing ag industry in southern Alberta brings an advantage to students studying in Lethbridge. Students benefit from its close proximity to major livestock operations as well as conventional and specialty crops. “Beyond that, we can go further down the supply chain to processing, marketing and numerous field-tofork type niche businesses, all within 100 kilometres of the college,” said Gabruch.

With all the agricultural activity in the area, there are plenty of prospects for field trips and experienced industry professionals are at hand as speakers and mentors. Open to all its students, Lethbridge College’s Agriculture Entrepreneur in Residence (AgENT) extracurricular program takes advantage of this body of knowledge. AgENT participants attempt to solve business problem scenarios with the mentorship of local farmers and ag professionals. The program also features business workshops and a speaker series.

Honing their entrepreneurial skills, community engagement also introduces AEM graduates to potential employers. “The diverse job opportunities, changes in the industry and the move towards a wide range of niche markets mean employers need new employees who understand both agriculture and the business,” said Gabruch. “Our grads will be highly employable and should find jobs quickly.”


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