However, California agriculture faces a dilemma: who are going to be the agriculture leaders of the future? West Hills College Lemoore is heading a regional community college agriculture leadership program to tackle this exact issue, and the first class of agriculture leaders is underway.
In 2017, California’s crops were estimated to have generated over $50 billion in profit, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. California grows over 400 types of crops and a third of the country’s vegetables.
This January, Agriculture Business 22 launched with a cohort of students interested in agriculture and developing their leadership skills. The unique class mixes classroom instruction with hands-on, practical assignments and weekly guest speakers from the agriculture industry.
“On the industry side, Agriculture has no choice but to develop their leaders,” said Kris Costa, Dean of Career Technical Education at West Hills College Lemoore. “Agriculture, in California especially, is struggling with uninformed voters, a declining farmer population, increased regulations, and decreasing support for the quality food that comes from the most prolific ag state in the world. We as an industry have to preserve agriculture in this state by growing our own leaders.”
The agriculture leadership program aims to do exactly that: develop ag leaders.
The course introduces students to the state, national and global impact of Agriculture. Students majoring in diverse agriculture fields ranging from plant science to ag business and ag communications are exposed to a view of the place of California agriculture in the world and its importance to the state. In addition to online discussions, the students also importantly meet with movers and shakers in the agriculture industry: there is a guest speaker nearly every Friday for the duration of the course.
The cohort is also diverse itself: it’s made up of students from across many different schools, not just West Hills since it’s a regional effort to train ag leaders.
“These students are majoring in Plant Science, Ag Business, Business, and Ag Communications and have technical knowledge, but their exposure is somewhat limited due to their geography,” Costa said. “This program widens their knowledge base in a way that will allow them to enter the workforce with a world view of the agriculture industry. These students are meeting with the movers and shakers in the industry – talking with these high level leaders is changing their mindset on agriculture and their place in it.”
Students have also benefited from the assistance of four industry members, who helped them to develop presentations for a trip to Sacramento in May. The group went on a tour of the state Capitol building and presented on agricultural issues, developed as projects as part of the class, to an audience of over 50 guests. They also met with legislators and members of the governor's administration.
Academically, students are being challenged. Each week, they must complete a comprehensive, master’s level difficulty research assignment.
“These assignments lead to advanced thinking of challenges and possible mitigations facing the average person involved in agriculture here in California,” said Tony Oliveira, who is teaching the cohort. “Some of the students are posting amazing responses and this in turn helps those that may have not learned yet to think at that level and or to research with such in-depth applications.”