WILLMAR and HUTCHINSON, MN – Beginning this fall, Ridgewater College will offer a new Agronomy Applicator Technician Diploma on the Willmar campus and will also be the first Minnesota two-year college to offer a fully online Agri-business Degree in addition to its longtime, in-person program on the Willmar campus.
Agronomy Application Technician
The new 38-credit Agronomy Applicator Technician program was recently developed to quickly provide industry graduates for one of agriculture’s most in-demand occupations, according to Ridgewater’s Curt Yoose, longtime Agriculture instructor.
“This one-year technical diploma will focus on the skills needed to become an effective and efficient custom applicator in the agronomy industry,” Yoose explained. Students will practice operation of self-propelled sprayers, fertilizer applicators, forklifts, skid loaders, and semitrucks. They’ll learn crop protection, pest management, agriculture machinery maintenance, and more.
Yoose is excited to add the one-year option to Ridgewater’s nine other Agriculture programs available to students, but is doubly excited to be part of a solution for a workforce problem the industry has been struggling with for years.
“Since the inception of our Agronomy Technology program in 1992, the number one in-demand career in the agronomy industry has been the custom application,” Yoose explained. “This still remains true today.”
He said he believes one factor in the applicator shortage is that individuals shy away from the occupation, thinking they will be a custom applicator for the rest of their career. “This could not be further from the truth,” he said. “Many of our past graduates who started as custom applicators have moved on into sales and management positions. A degree in custom application is a great way to get started with a company and learn the ins and outs of the agronomy industry.”
Ridgewater will continue to offer the comprehensive two-year Agronomy Technology program, but this new Agronomy Applicator Technician program will provide a way for students to quickly enter the workforce as certified custom applicators with the option to expand their ag education as they work.
Agri-business is a program that teaches students everything from animal, crop and dairy science to office management and feed-and-seed sales. Although Ridgewater offers both a 72-credit diploma and an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree, it is just the AAS degree that will expand with a fully online delivery option.
“We’re excited to offer the first two-year online Agri-business program in the state,” said Ridgewater Agriculture instructor Doug Lind. “By expanding our AAS degree to online, we can reach students outside of our traditional draw area for on-campus delivery.” The AAS degree includes required and elective Agriculture courses, along with 15 credits of general studies coursework.
“One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that we can deliver a high-quality online education even in highly technical areas,” explained Jeff Miller, Ridgewater College dean of technical instruction.
Educators across the world pivoted to online learning during the pandemic to varying extents, with many now transitioning back to campus. Just as many work places are maintaining some of the new ways to do business, Ridgewater has also evaluated how the year’s experiences will impact the future. “Ridgewater College will continue to explore flexible delivery options in Agriculture education,” Miller said. “We strive to ensure that our delivery options meet the needs of our students.”
Agri-business isn’t the first Ridgewater Agriculture program to offer a fully online option. In early 2020, Ridgewater added an online Poultry Management certificate in partnership with the University of Minnesota.
“It is important to note that while we are offering the Agri-business AAS in an online format, both the Agri-business AAS Degree and diploma will continue to be offered in the traditional hands-on, face-to-face format as well,” explained Lind. “It’s still a great way to serve the traditional hands-on learners and those seeking that on-campus college experience.”
Because fully online students will not be required to visit campus for any portion of the degree, Lind explained that the new option also opens the door for interested high school students wanting to earn college credit through Post-secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO). Students who may not have Agriculture programming in their high school could benefit without missing their high school activities.
An additional change within Ridgewater’s comprehensive Agriculture program is that after several years of having a GPS/GIS Information Systems Technology program, Ridgewater has decided to change the program’s name to Precision Agriculture. The change is in response to recommendations from the program’s advisory committee, saying it better reflects the wide and expanding array of technology used in the agriculture industry.
For more information about Ridgewater Agriculture program options, go to www.ridgewater.edu/agriculture.