Ag Business Club Long Term Benefits

January 30, 2013 05:40 AM
 
p60 Business First

Members benefit from club long after graduation

To Stuart Swanson, the Ag Business Club at Iowa State University (ISU) is more than just a college experience—it gave him skills that have been useful in his farming career since 1993.

His experience with the club helped him get elected to his local co-op’s board of directors. "The Ag Business Club taught me how to interact with peers, an important skill when we worked through the hiring at my co-op of a new general manager, which was contentious at times," says Swanson, a Galt, Iowa, crop and livestock producer.

"Today, farming competes well with agribusiness for college graduates."


For David Petersen, a Blue Grass, Iowa, dairy producer, club leadership opportunities taught networking skills that are invaluable to the genetic seedstock side of his business. "I’ve had the opportunity to merchandize genetics locally and globally. That requires networking, and the seeds for that skill were planted by activities like the club."

Like Swanson, Petersen is in a leadership position, serving as a director on the board of Prairie Farms Dairy, the largest cooperatively owned U.S. fluid milk processor.

Petersen also credits the club for valuable mentoring: "My wife and I did not go home to an  established operation, but started our own. We learned the value of good mentoring early and now try to give back." A 1980 graduate and 2003 recipient of the club’s Outstanding Alumni Award, Petersen still feels a valuable connection to the club.

Members of the Ag Business Club who become farmers remain in the minority, but that percentage has tripled in recent years. In the 1980s and 1990s, only 5% of club members entered farming after their college career compared to agribusiness; today the percentage is 16%. "Farming competes well with agribusiness for college graduates," says Ron Deiter, club adviser and ag economist.

Word about the value of the club has gotten out. Nearly half of the 400 ag business majors at ISU now pay dues, making it the largest college ag business club in the country. Members have a leg up on internships and jobs, Deiter says.

Members benefit from the club in several ways. For instance, they get to tour agribusinesses every fall throughout the Midwest. On a recent trip to Minneapolis, students met with officials from Land O’Lakes, CHS, Cargill and Hormel. Regular club meetings feature agribusiness speakers who not only give students new ideas, but offer networking opportunities.

Networking Led to Internship. A club tour put Donna McCune, a junior from Manlius, Ill., in contact with Cargill and led to a summer internship in Nebraska. "I originally wanted to go into ag lending," she says. "Now, I want to go into trading—grain merchandizing. I like that the market is always different. It’s high-stress and challenging."

Emily Flory of Denver, Iowa, also a junior, says the club offers many ways for students to improve their leadership skills. She sits on the recruitment and retainment committee, which puts her in contact with many campus groups.

"We get to meet with employers before the career fair," Flory says. ISU’s career fair comprises more than 200 companies. Flory, who is interested in a career in agribusiness marketing, also notes that being a member of the club has helped her improve her communication skills.

"I’ve seen freshmen who were a nervous wreck when asked to give a talk," Deiter says, "who, after some practice speaking, develop into confident and polished leaders."

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