Agri-Business Degrees: Associates, Bachelors & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in an agribusiness degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of associate's and bachelor's degree programs and potential careers.
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Study Agribusiness: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Studying agribusiness could prepare you for a variety of positions within agriculture and the food industry, including roles in marketing, land inspection, machinery distribution, farming and ranching. However, as food production becomes more mechanized, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that employment of agribusiness professionals would decline eight percent from 2010 to 2020. Essentials of large-scale farming, such as land, machinery, seed and chemicals, are becoming further out of reach for individuals as farm ownership transfers to corporations.

Some farmers and agribusiness professionals are finding employment in niche areas such as organic horticulture. In small urban and suburban markets, farmers often sell their goods directly to the consumer, which requires the farmer to not only have technical expertise, but also to be adept at marketing, finances, public relations and business planning. An associate's or bachelor's degree program could help you prepare for such work.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in a technical or entry-level career in agribusiness Students who want a solid foundation in business to work in the agriculture industry
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Purchasing agent ($74,000)*
- Farmer or rancher ($65,000)**
- Ranch manager ($39,000)*
- Land administration manager (requires 4-6 years of experience) ($120,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Prerequisites High school diploma - High school diploma
- College entrance exam
Online Availability Yes Yes

Sources: *Salary.com (May 2012 figures), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's in Agribusiness

Associate's degrees in agribusiness can be designed in two ways: to prepare you to enter the workforce upon graduation or to enable you to transfer to a 4-year bachelor's degree program. Programs that prepare you for the workforce tend to include more coursework in technical areas, while transfer programs tend to have more general education classes. You will want to choose a program based on your personal goals.

Programs that prepare you for the workforce vary in their curricula, with some having more farming classes and others having more business classes. You may want to choose a program based on which skill area you most need to develop. It may prove difficult to find a 2-year program that covers all of the sub-areas of agribusiness.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • If you already have farming knowledge, an associate's can build your business skills and teach you how to apply them to agriculture
  • Many programs are designed to suit students who are already employed, so you may be able to continue earning an income while you're taking courses
  • There is a wide variety in the focuses of different programs, so if you have some prior experience, you may be able to find a program that will fill in the gaps in your knowledge

Cons

  • The field of agriculture is becoming more and more mechanized, and employment opportunities are limited
  • You may not be able to find a program that adequately covers both hands-on technical skills and business skills
  • Agriculture increasingly favors very large industrial farms and very small farms, so many of the positions traditionally involved with mid-sized farms are disappearing

Courses and Requirements

Specific course requirements depend on the focus of the program. Some course topics you're likely to see in most programs include:

  • Agricultural marketing
  • Farm management
  • Agricultural economics
  • Accounting
  • Agribusiness sales
  • Fundamentals of business

You may also take coursework in soil science, crop rotation and animal science if your program includes more technical requirements. General education requirements and electives make up the rest of your courses. Some programs require an internship, but this is not a common requirement.

Online Degree Options

Online degree options are available that allow you to either take 100% of your classes online or take a combination of online and on-campus courses. Course requirements do not differ significantly from the requirements of on-campus programs. Both full-time and part-time options are available, and most programs are designed to accommodate students that are working or completing internships while taking courses.

Get Ahead with This Degree

The BLS projects employment of purchasing agents to grow 5% from 2010 to 2020. While this is still slower growth than what is projected for the average of all occupations, it is better than the projections for other agribusiness professionals. Therefore, you may want to take classes that could enable you to seek employment in this subfield.

Since the BLS also mentions a tendency for growth in the field of small-scale and organic agriculture, learning about the specifications of organic certification and the economics of running a small farm may also be to your benefit.

Bachelor's in Agribusiness

Bachelor's degree programs in agribusiness tend to focus on business and management principles and do not include many classes in farm production techniques. The depth and breadth of the business coursework offered may be greater than that offered in an associate's program, but, for the most part, the agribusiness coursework is very similar to what you would take in a 2-year program. However, you will be exposed to many more general education subject areas, such as literature, communications and history.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some management positions require a minimum of a bachelor's degree
  • Those with bachelor's degree's typically make a higher median annual salary than those with associate's degrees*
  • Bachelor's degree programs are more likely than associate's degree programs to include an internship requirement, which could help you make professional connections and find employment after graduation

Cons

  • Employment opportunities in agribusiness are expected to decline
  • Many jobs in agribusiness only require a high school diploma or an associate's degree
  • Bachelor's degree programs require a 4-year commitment and higher tuition costs than associate's degree programs

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

The courses required by bachelor's degree programs are often very similar to those required by associate's degree programs, with the exception that many more general education courses are required. Classes you can expect to find in most bachelor's degree programs include:

  • Agricultural law
  • Agricultural finance
  • Principles of agribusiness management
  • Microeconomics

Classes in the social sciences, humanities and natural sciences are included in your general education requirements. Bachelor's degree programs often require students to complete an internship.

Online Degree Options

Online options for completing a bachelor's degree program are fairly common. The formats for such programs vary, with some being offered 100% online and others having options for on-campus classes. Course requirements are similar to those of on-campus programs. If your program requires an internship, you will have to complete it in person.

Stand Out with This Degree

As is the case with associate's degree program students, bachelor's program students should also look to subfields of agribusiness for specialization options that might lead to more employment opportunities. For example, you may want to look for courses or internship opportunities that could prepare you to be a purchasing agent or a land administration professional. These types of positions may experience more growth and carry higher salaries than other agribusiness positions.

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