Farm Horizons, December 2013

Local youth choose college for farm-related occupations

By Starrla Cray

The field of agriculture is growing, and many local students are harvesting its bounty through a college degree.

“I grew up on a farm, and I’ve always enjoyed feeding the livestock, getting up early, being outside, and driving tractor,” said 2012 Howard Lake-Waverly-High School graduate David Buttenhoff. “I saw plenty of opportunities in agriculture, so I thought, ‘why not work in something I’ve loved all my life?’”

Buttenhoff will graduate from Ridgewater College in Willmar in the spring of 2014 with a degree in farm operation and management. He recently completed an internship at Crop Production Services, and hopes to work there full time in the future.

Fellow farm operation and management student Chelsea Smith (daughter of Larry and Laurie Smith) chose to intern at her family’s dairy, steer, and crop farm in rural Howard Lake.

“My dad’s been pretty impressed with some of the things I’ve come home with,” Smith said.

Holy Trinity High School graduate Ryan Horstmann, who recently earned a farm operation and management degree, also did his internships at home.

“I liked the idea of focusing on the home operation,” Horstmann noted. “It was interesting, because I had to do at least 10 things I don’t normally do on my farm. It gave me an opportunity to learn things I never knew while working at home in high school.”

Horstmann added that it was fun to show his dad (Tom Horstmann) everything he’d been learning in his classes.

“Farm business management was huge for me, because I learned a lot about the financial side of farming,” Horstmann said. “I also thought commodity marketing, crop protection recommendations, soil science, corn and soybean production, ag power, precision ag, and many other classes we’re extremely beneficial, too.”

The agriculture program at Ridgewater College offers five main program areas, including farm operations and management; agri-business, dairy management, agronomy technology, and GPS/GIS technology for agriculture.

After they graduate, farm operations and management students have the opportunity to return for a fifth semester to earn a second degree in agri-business.

“Our program has grown,” said Kim Lippert, chair of Ridgewater’s agriculture department. “In 2007, we had 145 students. This fall, we had 237. In the spring, we expect more than 250 students.”

One reason for growth is the strong agricultural economy.

According to Ridgewater’s website, there are at least five jobs available per graduate in agri-business each year. Needed services include crop scouting, precision ag services, and GPS soil sampling, to name a few.

Lester Prairie High School graduate Adam Feltmann started classes for agri-business in the fall of 2013.

“I’ve learned a lot – a bunch of little things you never think about,” he said. “I’m glad I decided to go.”

Feltmann’s first internship was in rural Winsted, at the farm of his grandfather (Mel Bayerl). In the spring, he hopes to intern at a co-op.

Although many agriculture students at Ridgewater College grew up on farms, a rural background isn’t necessary.

“Just because a person doesn’t come from a farm, doesn’t mean there’s not a place for them in agri-business,” Lippert said. “People who like plants, horses, working outside or inside – there’s a spot for everybody.”

Agriculture careers aren’t solely for men, either. Currently, about 20 percent of Ridgewater’s ag students are female.

Smith, whose ultimate goal is to take over her family’s farm someday, said newborn calves are what initially drew her into farming.

“At first, I wanted to be a vet because I love baby calves so much, but now, I’m really into the production side of it,” she said.

Preparation for an agricultural career often starts before college.

“High school ag teachers are great resources for students thinking about a career in agriculture,” Lippert said. “FFA programs are a very good place to learn, explore, and gain experience.”

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