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Ridgewater ag department job placement shows demand for ag workers

Danny Dressler of Lester Prairie examines a cat named Nadia in March 2012 at Ridgewater College in Willmar. Scheduled construction in the veterinary technician department will update laboratory facilities, which are necessary for the college to stay current with certification requirements. Tribune file photo by Gary Miller 1 / 3
State Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, was among the legislators touring Ridgewater College and learning about the school’s programs and challenges back in December 2011. Improvements at the college have been approved through the state Legislature and construction is expected to begin on the Willmar campus sometime this spring. Tribune file photo by Gary Miller2 / 3
Kody Aasen, far left, and Matt Rohlik, far right, of Haug Implement visit with Willmar High School students Liz Haug, left, and Lisa Damhof Feb. 1 during the Ridgewater College Ag Career and Technology Showcase which featured 40 exhibitors. Tribune file photo by Ron Adams3 / 3

It is safe to say that just about every student who graduates from the agriculture programs at Ridgewater College in Willmar gets a job in their chosen field.

The three-year average for ag graduates getting jobs after studying at the local college is 99.67 percent, according to Kim Lippert, ag teacher and department chair at the Willmar campus.

While the official 2012 data isn’t yet available, Lippert said that all of the 2012 graduates were placed in ag-related jobs.

The demand for agriculture graduates has never been better, Lippert said, especially for students in the agronomy-related fields.

“We simply cannot fulfill the job announcements we receive from agribusinesses and farms throughout Minnesota and neighboring states,” she said, adding that the entry-level salaries offered are quite competitive.

The college hosts a January career fair, and this year 43 exhibitors attended and 32 of those businesses interviewed Ridgewater students for jobs and internships. The career fair has been going on for 11 years and provides a barometer for the growing number of ag opportunities for students.

Ag expansion

The Ridgewater ag department will take a giant leap forward this year when construction gets under way this spring on expansion and improvements to the agriculture and veterinary tech program departments. The work, in the college’s plans for several years, is the second phase of improvements at the Willmar campus.

The department will gain technological advantages for its agronomy curriculum, Lippert said, with a growing room, agronomy and precision farming laboratory areas and an additional computer lab.

A majority, between 60 and 70 percent of the Ridgwater ag students, will work in agronomy-related fields like custom application, GPS technology, agronomy sales or crop production, so the additions will help students gain vital skills in their fields of study and work.

The project will also move the college’s dairy program closer to the other ag programs. Dairy students will also have their own lab for studying topics like feed quality and testing, and artificial insemination instruction.

Similarly, construction in the veterinary technician department will update laboratory facilities, which are necessary for the college to stay current with certification requirements.

The ag department, built for an enrollment of 120 students, now has 255 first- and second-year students, so the remodel will also address basic needs like more classroom, storage and restroom space, along with technological advancements.

Hands-on farming

The campus construction is not the only changes happening at the Ridgewater ag programs, the college now offers students the “Living Laboratory” which is a 60-acre plot of land the college owns that is farmed by the ag students.

The students make key decisions on the land, such as selecting seed varieties, writing field prescriptions, making tillage decisions and marketing the grain from the acreage, Lippert said. The students also get out of the classroom and take on the real-world, hands-on tasks of setting up and operating the equipment from planting to harvesting the crops.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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