Almost 14 percent of Oregon’s labor force works in agriculture, an ever-evolving industry. To educate the next generation of leaders in agriculture Eastern Oregon University in La Grande is launching a major in ag entrepreneurship this fall.
Several years ago agriculture business degree programs offered at Oregon State University and EOU were eliminated. Since then, students interested in both agricultural sciences and business graduated with a double major or a major in one discipline and a minor in another. Meanwhile technology, consumer buying habits and markets are changing. To respond to the future of agriculture, the ag entrepreneurship program is designed to prepare graduates to do everything from running the family farm or ranch, starting a career in sales and marketing, managing technology or designing efficient distribution and production systems.
Laura Gow-Hogge, a member of EOU’s Business School faculty, will oversee the new program. She said ag entrepreneurship has a bigger scope than previous ag business degrees and is designed to be current and contemporary for today’s world.
“We are training students to be Renaissance men and women,” Gow-Hogge said.
The program is designed to be relevant for ag professionals in the Inland Northwest as well as an opportunity for EOU to build partnerships with schools such as Blue Mountain Community College and Treasure Valley Community College, where students can begin their college education and be fully prepared to enter Eastern’s ag entrepreneurship program with no loss of credit.
Gow-Hogge said the program will give students opportunities to delve into the chemistry of soil and water, learn how to choose rotation crops for soil health and marketability, and track trends in consumer buying choices and demand forecasting.
Another aspect of creating a program that is flexible and adaptable, EOU President Tom Insko said, is using drone technology in agriculture. Pendleton is one of two drone test sites in the nation. Insko said the facility is going to bring a demand for people with skills that can assist with the test site needs.
“We are going to have graduates who identify opportunities to leverage technologies - providing critical thinking skills they would otherwise not have had,” Insko said.
The program emphasizes science, environment and natural resources as well as classes in human resources management, business negotiations, data analysis, accounting, grant and loan writing and courses that will help teach soft skills, like dealing with people and conflict.
“To be successful, students will need to develop emotional intelligence in order to see past differences and to get along,” Gow-Hogge said.
The degree follows an emphasis across the disciplines offered at EOU — experiential learning — and managing what Gow-Hogge called real-world projects.
“Employers told us what they want hands-on, practical learning,” Gow-Hogge said. “We are in the business of providing a workforce for the employers in our region.”
Insko said the major is a natural extension to the university’s 2018 designation as Oregon’s Rural University.
“I’ve been approached about the tremendous need for EOU to move in to offer ag-based opportunities,” Insko said. “There is a real desire for the university to build a program informed by our place and location as a rural institution.”
University staff and faculty worked with local businesses to design the program. Business School Dean Ed Henninger said the faculty looked out into the community and asked what resonated with local agriculture professionals.
“We wanted to know more than what it takes to just run a farm or livestock operation; we asked what is the other side of how you run your business?”
Whether a small, family farm or giant corporation, students will be thinking about raising crops, the weather, supply chain issues and the economy as a whole.
“Ag entrepreneurs will be able to anticipate and seize opportunities before they come,” Henninger said. “A lot of people know how to grow crops, but they don’t know how a business can be sustainable.”