Iowa Wesleyan debuts new agribusiness degree program at Alive After Five

Photo courtesy of Iowa Wesleyan University

Iowa Wesleyan University announced a new agribusiness degree program that would prepare students to work in agriculture-related fields with business backgrounds.
Photo courtesy of Iowa Wesleyan University Iowa Wesleyan University announced a new agribusiness degree program that would prepare students to work in agriculture-related fields with business backgrounds.

MT. PLEASANT — Come spring semester, Iowa Wesleyan University students will officially be able to sign up for agribusiness classes that will go toward an agribusiness degree. The university announced the new program at the Live After Five program, hosted at the university’s Social Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 6. Official launch of the program will begin August 2020, at which time the major will officially be established.

In its description of the degree, the university notes that agribusiness focuses “on utilizing innovative technology to increase profitability and efficiency. Agribusiness is the coordination of all activities that contribute to the production, processing, marketing, distribution, financing and development of agricultural commodities and resources.”

University Provost, DeWayne Frazier, said the idea for the degree had been spoken about for several years but was put into motion within the last six months. The university’s take on agribusiness will contain a business core with supporting agricultural classes. Frazier stated the major differs from other agribusiness degrees in southeast Iowa, whose core curriculum are based on agricultural sciences.

According to Frazier, the major was developed in response to feedback the university received from local businesses, who said Iowa Wesleyan graduates would have an even larger advantage over other candidates if equipped with an agricultural background.

“We’re seeing more students with business backgrounds get jobs in agriculture-related businesses,” Frazier said. The provost also noted the program will hopefully attract southeast Iowa locals to the university, explaining that the program is “really for the community … Iowa Wesleyan is always listening to the needs of the region. We exist for the people and want to help serve them so if they tell us we need to do something, we will try to offer it.”

“This is a hotbed for agriculture with lots of supporting businesses and industries related to agriculture … Iowa has some of the most fertile ground and agriculture makes up a large part of the economy,” Frazier added about how the university became aware of the need for an agribusiness degree.

“Local businesses were coming to us and saying, [Iowa Wesleyan] students are great, but they had to spend a year or two teaching them agronomy,” Frazier said.

To help graduates develop that edge, the university decided to pioneer the program so that alums of the program who enter agriculture-related fields, who are “selling to farmers will know what they’re dealing with,” Frazier said.

In development of the program, Frazier and the university worked with local companies such as Beck’s Hybrid and Eichelberger Farms to determine the topics to be covered in classes and what should be provided within the curriculum. Frazier also noted that former United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also provided feedback on how to improve the program. Vilsack suggested current hot topics in agriculture including vertical and urban farming, as well as synthetic agriculture that students should learn about through the program.

Vilsack is famously quoted for noting that “one out of every 12 jobs in the economy is connected in some way, shape or form to what happens on the farm.”

While the core of the major will be based in business classes, topics that will be covered in the agribusiness concentration will include crop production, precision farming systems as well as agricultural finance and marketing. Currently, the university is looking to hire three to four professors with agribusiness backgrounds to teach major classes. As the program continues to grow, further staff will be hired. In a news release about the program, Iowa Wesleyan President Chris Plunkett noted that the university is looking to develop “agreements with community colleges and partnerships with regional companies.”

“Iowa Wesleyan’s participation in online education and its location in one of the nation’s prominently ag-focused states make this a great fit for southeast Iowa and our students. The future of agriculture is bright, and it makes sense for Wesleyan to be a part of leadership development in the Ag sector. We look forward to welcoming our first group of students in August when the program launches,” Plunkett said.

At the Alive After Five announcement, several speakers from the university addressed community members, including Brooklynn Wieland, a current freshman student and the first Wesleyan student who will take part in the agribusiness program. Wieland, who hails from Illinois, was involved with FFA in high school and has been involved with 4H since she was 9 years old.

In her speech, Wieland said she believes “the Agribusiness Program will bring a new light into the University … and will allow agriculture to grow through the students across campus. Students here at Iowa Wesleyan University who go into this program will come out with a degree that will benefit them for life.”

Wieland also noted that agriculture is “not just cows, sows and plows.”

“It is medicine, technology, food, animals and so much more,” she said.