Given how important financial skills are to navigating life, it’s surprising elementary schools don’t teach children about money. The same could be said about ag colleges. Why don’t more ag degree programs require courses on business and finance?
This question gnawed at me while I attended TEPAP (The Executive Producers in Agriculture Program), a week-long business program held annually in Austin, Texas. This year’s program provided reflection, as longtime TEPAP Director Danny Klinefelter retired from the helm and handed the reins to Mark Welch, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension economist. Several other long-serving faculty also retired. See page 54 to learn what these educators have discovered from attendees through the years.
Despite a changing of the guard and 24 years of existence, the TEPAP program saw record attendance this year. There was more diversity in the classrooms. Attendees included a mix of farm owners, operators, managers, cow hands, children and spouses. As the risks and rewards grow larger in agriculture, it seems everyone on the farm is seeking greater knowledge in the areas of business processes, human resources, farm finance and accounting.
"If I were to advise a high school student who wanted to go back to run the farm, I would tell them to go to the best business school in the country," says Bernie Erven, professor emeritus of
ag economics at The Ohio State University and TEPAP faculty member. "It’s B School skills that are desperately needed now."
Who Will Teach? Where can young people go to learn finance skills needed to run a farm business in this current high-risk era of agriculture? The question is hard to answer. For decades, it was land-grant institutions, which upheld a mission of teaching practical agriculture. Today, land-grant universities have multiple constituencies to please—students, research peers, outside funding, Extension and taxpayers.
The pull of research dollars and federal education initiatives should not be allowed to crowd out basic farm business education, says Neil Harl, professor emeritus of ag economics at Iowa State University and TEPAP faculty member. "My greatest concern is that land-grants are on a trajectory that will narrow it to the point of invisibility," he says.
The need for business skills in today’s ag environment is critical. Encourage your alma maters to increase the number of finance, management and human resource classes. In the meantime, long live TEPAP.
Editor of Top Producer