Ag sector interest sends university enrolment up

If there was any lingering doubt that agriculture has become a sexy industry, the recent interest shown by young people should put it to rest.

Witness the enrolments in prairie universities, where students are flocking to agriculture colleges across the region.

The University of Manitoba has seen a whopping 24 percent increase in its degree program this year over last, while enrolment in the diploma program is also up. The University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources has grown by 10 percent, even as the rest of the university’s enrolment has re-mained flat.

Things are also looking up at the University of Alberta, boosted by a new animal health program, while Olds College is full with a number of students on a waiting list.

The Western College of Veterinary Medicine, also at the U of S, has recently attracted a significant private donation to enhance its equine component.

“The agricultural industry and the Prairies in general has been very strong,” said Brian Amiro, associate dean for academics at the U of M’s faculty of agricultural and food sciences, in a recent WP story.

“That’s been going on for quite awhile, but especially lately. Students are realizing that getting an education in agricultural and food science is a great opportunity for a career.”

The increase in interest is likely not too surprising if one looks at the commodity cycle of the last five years. High prices and decent crops have put agriculture back into the economic limelight, and as Amiro notes, that’s the big driver.

On the less positive side, the anti-farm practice lobby has also catapulted food and its manufacture onto the mainstream radar. It is possible that some students have been driven into the sector by a desire to either improve technology or debunk the rampant myths now pervasive in the media.

Whether it’s the economic angle or the philosophical one, rising enrolments make sense.

Still, since the size of farms have increased and the number of farmers decreased over several decades, one might expect fewer farm-raised students to embark on agricultural careers. As a result, the new interest in agricultural study is heartening.

Many aspects to agriculture need attention, and new crops of scientists and educated farmers will be required to address them.

The issues range from understanding and managing weed resistance, dealing with consumer and activist-led public concerns and developing new crop varieties to keep up with an ever-changing climate, not to mention advanced farm management.

As the commodity cycle takes a downturn, which seems to be occurring now, more bright lights will be needed to support and defend the food industry. No matter what happens in the cycle, growing food will always be the most crucial industry in the world. Bringing on the next generation is vital to agriculture’s continued health.

We hope that funding for agriculture colleges will be robust and unwavering. There are enormous expenses related to education and research, yet they are not just worthwhile but crucial to the economy.

Universities are under pressure to reduce tuitions and cut costs, making program delivery decisions difficult. But in no other field are the returns to society and human health as significant.

The young people entering ag colleges in droves likely understand that. Many of them seek good careers, but they also want to make a difference. They are the scientists and farmers of the future.

It’s a wonderful thing to see them signing up for agriculture.

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