Business Meets Ag

As published in MN Valley Business journal

December 01, 2017 |

Agriculture. What was the first image that comes to mind? Crops, fields, manual labor or dirt under your nails?

Agriculture has long been a prominent industry in Southern Minnesota; however, not all are aware of the potential this region possesses. With technology advancing in the business world, the field of agriculture has morphed into agriculture business, also referred to as agribusiness. Agribusiness includes the management, marketing and production of agricultural commodities, and is just like any other industry today – one that requires standard business operational departments, from marketing and banking and finance to data science and technology. 


Minnesota State University, Mankato plays a vital role in contributing to the needs and demands of its community and stakeholders. As such, the College of Business at Minnesota State Mankato has lined up some initiatives to increase students’ awareness and education of this industry and region. Such efforts include the AgBiz internship event, the inception of the AgToday club, as well as AgriBusiness in the Modern Economy, a new business course commencing in 2018. 


a group of people sitting around a tableThe AgBiz Business, Technology and Natural Sciences Internship Panel event took place in October and was co-hosted with the College of Science Engineering and Technology. Based on numbers and several conversations with the students, the event was a success. More than 100 students, faculty and business representatives gathered to learn more about diverse internships across the growing agricultural industry. 


“Not only were students given the opportunity to learn more about the ever-evolving career opportunities available in the agricultural sector, but several of them received offers for interviews and internships as a direct result of engaging at this event. This was a reminder (to me) of how important it is that our university is so intentional about building close partnerships with businesses,” said Luke Howk, partnerships and internships coordinator. 


Furthermore, to sustain this newly-found interest that the students have expressed in agribusiness, the AgBiz Club formed under the leadership of Shane Bowyer, professor of management.


“We had a little more than ten students who expressed interest (in joining the club) right away… Mankato is one of the largest soybean producing cities in the world, and it needs business graduates to run the industry. It’s just like any other business, and most students don’t see that.” The primary objective of this club, according to Bowyer, is to increase awareness of the demand and career opportunities in the agribusiness field. 


Bowyer says that the strategic geographical location of Mankato and Southern Minnesota is what makes it one of the top exporting cities of essential crops in the U.S., and the world. 


Another initiative lead by Bowyer is the AgriBusiness in the Modern Economycourse. One of the course objectives is to teach students how to apply business knowledge and concepts to the agriculture industry, as well as examining career opportunities in agriculture beyond the farm. The course covers a variety of topics, from soybean crushing, corn and other grains to banking and finance, drones, data and other technology.


“Students are the ones that have been talking about it. They’re the ones that are pushing for it. The AgBiz Club formed right away; the class filled up quick, the demand is there. It is also alumni-led. Some alumni that graduated from here are now in positions in agriculture, and they’re trying to connect with the students, and also possibly hire them,” said Bowyer.


The Southern Minnesota region is one of the top producers of soybean and corn in the world. However, as Sam Ziegler, Director of GreenSeam states “figures show that there are still around 60 thousand job openings in the agribusiness field each year, but we only have 35 thousand new U.S. graduates with the expertise.” Luckily, with the help of entities such as GreenSeam, the issue of awareness is being tackled. 


GreenSeam has one objective; to promote this region and bring awareness to the public of the business development and economic growth opportunities that could be sought out. 


“We want to use our strongest industry to fuel economic growth. We are an agriculture-related muscle in the U.S. We want people to look at us for agriculture solutions. We want to redefine this region as the Silicon Valley of agriculture,” Ziegler said.


Today, it is the perfect time to capitalize on the growth this industry has seen and maximize it. The initiatives taken by entities in the region such as Minnesota State Mankato, as well as GreenSeam is what will provide the platform for prospects to help this region reach exponential economic growth and prosperity.