Growth Potential: Lethbridge College helps students to stay ahead of the curve

By Tim Kalinowski, Staff Writer


As with most other traditional professions, agriculture is changing in dynamic ways to meet the challenges of a new millennium. A big factor in the success of farmers today is how savvy they are on the marketing end of things, and how efficiently they can get their crops or animals from the field to those markets. According to Dr. Edith Olson, interim Dean of Applied Arts & Sciences at Lethbridge College, with things changing so fast, post-secondary education programs are a key component of success in the agriculture industry nowadays. “Agriculture has evolved from the days when you could just put in the crop and do exactly as grandpa did, and expect you are going to be successful,” states Olson. “Agriculture is much more than farming. You need to have a good science base to understand your soil, your plants, your animals and you have to be able to react in order to manage your farm in the best way possible. There is also, of course, the business side of agriculture. That is hugely important. “You need to have some skills in knowing how to market, how do financial reports, how to be able to get your product out there and understand the commodities side of the things.” Lethbridge College offers two types of agriculture education programs: A two year Agriculture Sciences diploma for new farmers just starting out and a Agriculture Risk Management certificate program for seasoned farmers wanting to improve their management skills. “With the diploma program we teach not just about when, but why.” explains Olson. “We don’t take them out on seeders and combines, but we give them that good, solid science base to be able to understand that when, where and why. “As for our certificate program, your education in agriculture does not stop when you graduate. Education in agriculture is a life-long commitment. Things are always changing, and you’ve got to be able to maintain that body of knowledge and know what’s current in the field. So ongoing education, I think, is something really important in the agriculture industry.” Lethbridge College usually draws in students from all over southern Alberta, southwest Saskatchewan and southeast British Columbia. Olson says agriculture students are drawn to the college for very good reasons: Practical application and grounded experience in real agriculture. “Why choose Lethbridge College for agriculture? One of the things is because of the diversity we have with agriculture here in southern Alberta; that’s very attractive. We are feedlot alley, so we have the animal production. We have the cow/calf, but we also have more than that: We have swine, we have poultry, we have exotic animals such as llamas… We have all those different kinds of livestock around Lethbridge because we have irrigation. “We can also grow a much larger variety of crops locally. That irrigation sets us apart from any other ag. program that is delivered across Canada. We also have lots of local producers who really like working with our students by hosting them at their sites.” Olson is particularly proud of this hands on aspect to the agriculture programs offered at the college. “It’s authentic learning, and real and valuable advice from someone who is actually working within their industry. It is not only their business, it is their passion. They are an essential part of the program.” Lethbridge has also become a hub for cutting edge agricultural research, and has a diverse group of agriculture related companies who work in close partnership with the college to help instructors deliver top notch programming. “There are so many opportunities in agriculture: From banking and the financial side, all the way through to primary production,” explains Olson. “And the college will help you on that path. The diversity we have here sets those students up to take the knowledge they get from Lethbridge College, graduate with the two year diploma, and they are then ready, willing and able to work in an agricultural operation almost anywhere across Canada.” Olson says Lethbridge College is forging ahead alongside Canadian farmers to meet the challenges of agriculture heading into the future. The college is helping its students not only to understand the farming landscape of today, but wants them to be a step ahead of the curve in a dynamic and evolving industry. “The value of Lethbridge College to agriculture in southern Alberta has been recognized not just by Advanced Education and our local community, but also through the generous gifts our donors have provided to us, so we can continue to offer agricultural programs to the Lethbridge community, and beyond, for years to come.”