Agribusiness is a broad subject that can prepare students for a variety of careers in farming, ranch management, animal science and sales. Traditionally, agricultural managers have learned their trade while on the job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, as the nature of land and agricultural management has grown more complex, more and more of these managers earn bachelor's-level degrees. Individuals who are interested in becoming researchers, consultants and analysts in the agricultural field might even consider completing a graduate degree in the subject. Some professional work may require certification.
Applicants to 2- year associate's and 4-year bachelor's degree programs are required to have at least a high school diploma or GED. Applicants to master's programs are required to have a bachelor's degree and above-average GPA. Academic training in macro- and microeconomics, statistics and calculus could be required. Master's programs are typically 2 years in length and require a thesis or internship for graduation. Real estate, commodity futures, economic realities of natural resources, international trade, managerial economics, marketing, agricultural policy, finance public policy, agribusiness financial management and international trade are common specialization options at the graduate level.
Associate Degree in Agribusiness Management Technology
Students in these 2-year programs learn to apply the principles of business leadership and economics to soil science, livestock management and human relations. Database management, marketing and communication skills all play into a graduate's ability to assess sources of expenses and income, market products effectively and hire employees.
Students use computer-generated simulations in the classroom, but most programs facilitate hands-on internships that provide opportunities to make professional contacts and test problem-solving abilities on the job. Grain harvesting systems, agricultural law, commodities and fertilizer use are among the topics offered in agriculture management technology programs. Electives can cover such concepts as livestock judging, forage crops or horsemanship. Subjects common to these programs include:
- Agricultural marketing
- Beef production
- Soil conservation
Bachelor's Degree in Agribusiness Management
These programs offer students the opportunity to analyze problems in the fiber and food industry as well as product marketing, financing and production. Graduates find work in market analysis, loan servicing and management of personnel or food processing. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted, price fluctuations and farm productivity are influenced by weather, federal subsidies and disease (www.bls.gov). Students learn about market history, plant science, communication skills and the ability to work as a team. Additional topics introduced to students include:
- Business statistics
- Business management
- Farm planning
- Product marketing
Master's Degree in Agricultural Economics
These 18 to 24 -month programs train students in economics, preparing graduates to analyze market conditions to take advantage of growth opportunities, make prudent decisions and invest wisely in their business. Thesis tracks are available for students thinking of earning a doctoral degree. Doctoral programs are for prospective teachers, researchers and specialists at nonprofit, private and government organizations and universities and may be good for certain specializations, such as public policy, agribusiness financial management or international trade. Non-thesis tracks are optimized for students interested in completing an internship prior to graduation. In either track, students learn to price items properly and use computer simulations to help them make the most effective business decisions. Material covered in these types of programs includes the following:
- Agribusiness marketing
- Economic risk analysis
- Fiscal management
- International trade
- Production economics
Certification and Training
The American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA) administers a voluntary certification program that offers an Accredited Farm Manager credential (www.asfmra.org). Bachelor's degree-holders with at least four years of farm management experience who have taken certain ASFMRA courses are eligible to sit for the AFM exam. Applicants for accreditation must be members of ASFMRA and meet periodic continuing education requirements to maintain accredited status.
An associate degree program prepares people to work in agriculture production, including working for agencies, like the Dairy Herd Improvement Association. Other than finding work in an entry-level management position, graduates can pursue the following jobs:
- Agricultural products inspector
- Livestock-feed service representative
- Fertilizer salesperson
- Food-processing supervisor
- Rural credit officer
- Soil conservation technician
Careers for master's degree holders are found in several industries, like food retailing, processing and agricultural policy. These graduates are qualified to work as:
- Farm managers
- Financial analysts
- Market researchers
The 2018-2028 employment forecast from the BLS showed an expected one percent decrease in job opportunities overall for farmers and ranchers, though the outlook is less grim for agricultural managers who work as employees of a dairy, farm or ranch. Landowners who do not live on the property may hire agricultural managers to oversee the area. The same report suggested that small farms that focus on organic horticulture and connecting with consumers directly have developed despite the projected decline.
Aspiring agricultural managers can study agribusiness at the associate's, bachelors and master's degree levels to prepare for their future career. Graduates may wish to pursue voluntary certification to earn their Accredited Farm Manager credential, which could improve employment prospects.