Lethbridge College is stepping up to meet the demands of an ever-changing industry come September, launching a new Bachelor of Agriculture Science degree program.
The program builds on the current Agriculture Sciences diploma offered at the college, with a common first-year curriculum before students are able to choose where they would like to aim their focus.
The program is the only one of its kind in southern Alberta and is similar to the Bachelor of Science degree programs offered at the University of Alberta and University of Saskatchewan.
Those in the area say the addition of a local option is long overdue, and will pay off big time down the road.
“The agriculture here in southern Alberta is so intense and active and diverse that I think it’s a really nice addition,” said Ken Coles, the executive director of Farming Smarter and a member of the college’s industry advisory committee.
Coles said the new degree program will produce more well-rounded grads in the area.
“Because agriculture is changing so fast, I think what you’re going to see is a student that’s been exposed to a lot of different aspects of agriculture, both on the technology side and the agronomy side,” he said.
Farming Smarter is one of the community partners that will offer applied learning opportunities to students in the program.
School of Agriculture chair Byrne Cook said talks with industry partners over the last couple of years made the need for the program very clear.
“They’re hiring our students and so we really want to stay in touch with them, where our students’ needs are, and what their training needs are,” Cook said.
“There was kind of a gap between the agronomy student that understands agriculture and the technicians that understand precision agriculture and the data-driven world and all these new technologies coming out.”
Cook said the School of Agriculture “let the cat out of the bag” earlier this year, and the new degree program already has 19 students signed up for September. The hope is to have as many as 30 students enrolled this fall.
He said with so many multi-generational farming families in southern Alberta, it’s exciting to provide a new option to local students.
“Most of them are involved in their own primary production and a lot of them own land or they’re involved in a significant way that they really don’t want to leave Lethbridge,” he said. “So to be able to get this bachelor of ag science here in Lethbridge — and not have to leave home — that’s really, really significant.”
The degree program is recognized by the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, and students will earn a professional agrologist designation after they graduate.