New agriculture program takes root at MSU

Minnesota State University, Mankato’s College of Business recently expanded its offerings by elevating its Agribusiness and Food Innovation minor to a major. The program’s minor was approved in 2020. Since then, MSU has decided to elevate the program, making it available as both a major and minor.

Mankato’s prime location in farm country prompted the program’s launch. The major was approved during the middle of last year, but the department was unable to put it in the catalog, making 2022 the first official year students can select the agribusiness major.

Director of Agribusiness and Food Innovation and Associate Professor of Management Shane Bowyer said since the program has been added to the catalog, a wide influx of incoming students has shown interest in attending MSU.

“We’ve started recruiting high school students,” Bowyer said. “We’re getting transfer students now and people even within the campus that are switching majors now that they’ve heard about it.”

Some of the food companies that have reached out to partner with the program include Land o’ Lakes, Hormel and CHS. These companies are looking for those graduates with agricultural backgrounds, not necessarily in the science skills but to have an idea to represent their companies in marketing. 

Assistant Professor of Management DQ Spencer teaches classes that focus more on the human resources side of agriculture, which involves understanding the full components and functions of agribusiness, management and leadership. Spencer said the program’s goal is to create awareness of agribusiness and provide an abundance of opportunity.

“We’re in a great location geographically to [have this program],” said Spencer. “We can not only contribute regionally, we can go globally because we contribute all sorts of these skill sets, communications, and the agribusiness to know how to kind of help.” 

One of the opportunities the program offers is the Ag in Action program. The main hands-on activity is having students do research that involves agriculture and agribusiness with topics ranging from apple juice to rubber. Students dive into finding out more information about the topic they are interested in, then present their information to high school and middle school students in the area.

Assistant Professor of Marketing and International Business Maria Kalyvaki teaches classes regarding marketing and communication. Kalyvaki said employers in agribusiness are looking to hire people with communication and public relations skills. The courses she teaches are applicable to that. 

“The marketing aspect is like an umbrella, [regarding] advertisement and how to better communicate for the company to the public about what they are doing,” Kalyvaki said. “You don’t have to be in a field to know about agriculture, but you have to have some exposure though. That’s what we are trying to give people here, so when they start talking, they understand what agriculture is and how to become ambassadors of agriculture.

The reaction from people coming in, be it students or faculty, has been positive. Kalyvaki noticed that students who have come from two-year colleges have enjoyed the new program. They say it not only allows students to get the skills and qualifications necessary for the field, but lets students who live in the surrounding area stay closer to home now that MSU offers classes that are tailored to fit their needs. 

“This is a better place to be because we’re in a location where not only you’re going to get a degree, but you’re going to get those connections with those businesses that want to get you for an internship or a job in the future,” Kalyvaki said. “We’ve lost many students that are going to other colleges in other states around here since [those colleges have] more agribusiness qualities. I think by having this new school here and having these new programs, we’re attracting those students that otherwise we would lose through the years.” 

When the term agriculture comes to mind, it’s often viewed as walking through mud in a field, checking crops. Spencer and Kalyvaki said agribusiness involves life sciences, but doesn’t necessarily mean careers that involve farmwork. 

“Agribusiness is a very fluid dynamic. It’s very broad which allows more students to get those opportunities, get that chance to understand what they want and don’t want to do,” Spencer said.

“[Agribusiness] is technology, data analytics, even having a drone. We have all these companies around here that want to collaborate with us and want to find graduates to recruit, so we have the opportunities to grow them,” Kalyvaki said.

Several other colleges in surrounding states like Iowa, South Dakota and Minnesota have schools specifically tuned into the production side of agriculture. MSU’s program stands apart from the others due to the prime location for gaining knowledge about agriculture while allowing students to focus on the business and entrepreneurial side of agriculture. 

“We [as a program] can leverage our strengths [on the business side] and from being in the right region. In the last few years, we’ve had over 160 different agriculture-related companies recruit on campus, and we’re going to continue to use those past histories of our successes in developing this new program,” Bowyer said.

For students who are considering following the agribusiness path, Spencer wants students to know of all the career options available should they consider Agribusiness and Food Innovation as a major or minor.

“Students are very taken aback and amazed about how many careers are included in agribusiness. When they understand more and more about technology, information and analytics, they develop that desire to want to get into agribusiness,” Spencer said.

As the world’s population grows, the need to ensure everyone has access to food becomes more prevalent. The agribusiness program is determined to keep raising awareness on agriculture and how everyone reaps the benefits, from either working in the fields or communicating with food companies.

“There’s a lot of times some negative connotations around farming and production [from] big company farms, but we want to be that voice to say we all need agriculture in our lives,” Bowyer said.

Header Photo: Shane Bowyer (left), Maria Kalyvaki and DQ Spencer are professors in the College of Business’ new Agribusiness and Food Innovation program. (Dylan Long/The Reporter)

Write to Emma Johnson at emma.johnson.5@mnsu.edu

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