By Brenlee Coates
The faculty of agricultural and food sciences is often misunderstood.
“We find students and the public think of farming,” says Sue Clayton, community liaison officer for the faculty.
“You often hear a phrase called ‘from the farm gate to the farm plate’ and that’s truly what our faculty does. It takes it right from the research into what the farmers should be planting, what they should put on the crop to help the crop grow, the soil, environmental factors like greenhouse gas emissions… (they) look at the whole ecosystem and how it interacts together.
“So it takes a look at all of that and then how that crop gets from there into the grocery stores.”
The faculty of agricultural and food sciences has two streams: a two-year diploma is primarily hands-on learning that most use to hone their farming skills or to get a taste of university before enrolling in a four-year agricultural program; the four-year bachelor of science programs are wide-spanning and include majors in agribusiness, food science, plant biotechnology, agronomy, animal systems, agroecology or pre-veterinary studies.
“The students I find that come into our faculty are of two minds: they’re either very interested in business… because agriculture is such a huge business in Canada and in our province, and internationally,” says Clayton. Or, the students are interested in science. “All of our other programs besides agribusiness are very much science-related,” she says.
The business-minded students find it advantageous to study business within a specific focus, as it may increase their likelihood of finding employment right out of school.
The agribusiness students take courses in the Asper School of Business as well as agriculture.
“They graduate with a background knowledge in agriculture so that they can go work in a business capacity,” says Clayton. “And when one in eight jobs in Canada is agriculture, that’s huge.”
The bachelor of science students are also attracted to the career opportunities.
“We often get quite a few students transferring in from the faculty of science because they hear about the jobs,” says Clayton. The jobs that entice students to join the faculty are not just the careers that graduates slide into upon graduation. Students are often offered several jobs over their summer break: right at the start of the agricultural season.
“We might have a second- or third-year, 19- or 20-year-old student with three job offers for summer of 2014 in October of 2013,” says Jared Carlberg, acting associate dean.
“Here’s your $3,000-a-month summer job, plus your truck or van, plus your cell phone, plus your expense account, and just take your pick of who you want to work for.
“For our students the summer job opportunities and the career opportunities are really attractive.
The agriculture industry and the food industry still know to come to us for the people that they need.”
That is where the faculty has a leg up – many university students cannot find work related to their field of interest in the summer or even after graduating, but the faculty of agricultural and food sciences is responding to industry demand.
“It’s very much driven by our industry. Our industry is saying to us: ‘We need to graduate more students. The jobs exist,’” says Clayton.
The University of Manitoba has the only faculty of agriculture in Manitoba.
Though it is a minor, its entomology department (study of insects) is the only one of its kind in Canada. Plus, the agribusiness department is unique to Canada.
“There’s kind of a notion out there from some people that ‘Oh, y’now, I’m not from a farm, I guess I can’t go study agriculture,’” says Carlberg.
“Really, it’s about food.
It’s about resource use, it’s about environmental stewardship. These are all things that are prominently featured in our faculty. Production is only one part of it. Marketing is a big part of it as well – once the crop is grown, it’s got to be sold.”
The faculty also concerns itself with questions of sustainability and food security. A soil science department studies what happens to the soil that crops are grown in, and students are exposed to organic farming.
While large-scale production is how the majority of the world’s food is grown, organic farming is presented as a viable option.
“It’s really nice that we have the opportunity to have the people that focus on the organic area as well in our faculty so students are able to get both perspectives,” says Clayton.
“And there’s room for everything in our industry. It’s nice that consumers are able to choose and we live in a country that’s able to accommodate that – that consumers have choice.”
The faculty of agricultural and food sciences is the fastest growing faculty at the U of M. Graduates of this program generally never have to worry about finding work.
“It’s so global. I mean, everyone needs to eat. Food is a major issue worldwide,” says Clayton.
“These companies are global companies so you can work for them locally or you have opportunities to travel.”
The faculty also does community outreach and has a Bruce D. Campbell Farm and Food Discovery Centre at its Glenlea Research Station that is open to the public. Faculty members have witnessed more interest in these initiatives in past years.
“People are very interested in what they’re eating and they’re interested in where that food came from,” says Clayton.
The deadline to apply to the faculty of agricultural and food sciences is May 1. Visit umanitoba.ca/afs for more information.