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How Much Ag Education Is Too Much?

These early days of September see many students starting back to classes.  Parents, teachers and the students themselves are focused on making sure that the education they are receiving is the one that will best prepare them for a life career that is rewarding.

Every industry requires a specialized set of skills — and the dairy industry is no exception.

Recently on The Milk House, Thomas Lilley had questions about Ag education as it applied to his current goals and life plan. 

The first question was put this way. “Hey guys, I am just wondering, at what stage does a university graduate become “over educated” to be employable as a farm hand?”

Thomas Lilley, then narrowed down to, “I’m wondering as I’m currently finishing my third year studying at University and I could graduate with a degree in Agriculture, or could return for a fourth year and graduate with a degree in Agricultural Sciences with or without honors, both with a focus on Animal Science and Genetics.”

The third part dealt with seeking further guidance, as the questioner zeroed in on mentorship advice, “I was just wondering your opinions as employers and in terms of possibly obtaining financial backing to purchase my own farm someday.”

When Does Enough Education Become Too Much?

Calling someone overeducated is often meant as an insult or used without justification by people of less education, simply as a means of tearing down someone’s accomplishments when you don’t like them. The education in question may actually be perfectly suited to the task at hand. However, since we don’t walk around wearing our degrees, the evidence of our education should be in the work completed not in the statement that we have it.

Advice from Those Who are Willing to Share.

The discussion on the Milk House was good. One member encouraged Lilley to “Finish your education. You never know where you might be in the future. If something happens down the road that you aren’t working on farm or owning your own farm, you will need a degree most likely to work in industry. You don’t want to lose out on a good job because you didn’t finish your degree. ” Another member, Emily Hill, summed up a great answer by saying” If you won’t be bored, finish now.  Even if you go on for another eight years, you will not be “annoying” to an employer or co-workers if you are humble, respectful, hard-working and patient. In farm work, everyone is busting their ass. The annoyance comes when you act like you’re somehow better. That’s NOT just in farm work. That’s just good life advice. ”

Making the Best Educational Choices

Getting an education that will prepare you for a career in agriculture starts with the two-pronged decision of where you will study and what your education will focus on.  It isn’t unusual for young students to be confused about the vast number of choices they’re facing.  It is, therefore, wise to seek input and mentoring.  Keeping an open mind and not settling for “easy” or “fast” are part of the first steps to consider.

Students are faced with a full spectrum of career studies. They vary enormously and include everything from genetics, engineering, science, finance and general labor. In addition to the hard skills learned in formal studies, employers today recognize that it is important to grow the soft skills that will make it possible for you to stand out in a competitive agricultural work environment.  Competition is the modern reality. Indeed, competition continues beyond classroom test results, is highlighted throughout job interviews and then is a driving force of achieving goals and priorities in the workplace.

Is Agriculture Facing Degrees of Ineffectiveness?

The more people that have the extra degrees, the more companies will expect them as standard. This becomes the new normal.  The bachelor’s degree is already a standard prerequisite. Some employers insist on a Master’s Degree, or Ph.D. Education has become a commodity, and further education has moved from furthering knowledge to a check-off for being employable. It is important not to lose the effectiveness of education.  A wall of framed certificates is useless if it doesn’t contribute to Ag business outcomes.

AgBackground and Work Experience Are Cumulative Assets

Although it’s rare, it’s not impossible, for someone outside of agriculture to be interested in seeking an agricultural career.  In the case of the young person seeking advice on the Milk House, there already was a connection to dairying. “I have been raised on a dairy farm, and have worked on other dairy farms for the past five years.” This can certainly be an asset but, having said that, it’s never too late to start to build or continue building a resume of experience that supports success in the ag industry.

Four Skills to Develop in Tandem with Education

Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Everything you are exposed to can add to your education and prepare you for success in the dairy industry.  Four that are often identified by employers, consultants, and financial planners are:

  1. Adaptability
  2. Interpersonal communication skills
  3. Time management and organization
  4. Tech Savvy


Being able to adapt to changing situations is important to most careers in agriculture.  Whether you are on the farm or consulting or supplying the industry, the very nature of agriculture means that there are constant seasonal and economic changes to respond to. It is exciting, when studying, to be exposed to the leading edge of science and technology relating to the industry.  Then it is absolutely vital to be able to adapt what you learned in the classroom to develop a solution and come up with a plan for situations faced on the farm or in an ag job. Being able to do so, could mean the difference between the success or failure of the farm operation.

Ag business also benefits when adaptability is a polished skill. Ag professionals need to learn to adapt quickly to meet changing consumer demands, not just as a group but from farm to farm. New challenges are always presenting themselves. Not only must ag professionals respond to arising challenges, but they will also be expected to have skill in predicting what new challenges lie ahead.

Interpersonal Communication skills

For agriculture professionals, interpersonal skills are incredibly important.  They are required to interact with farmers, other industry professionals and with labs and production sites producing materials for use on the farm. This requires an understanding of the communication styles of a wide range of individuals.  It also depends on clearly communicating the assessments and possible solutions that will work best to resolve problems and move the business forward. Effective professionals must be able to listen to the needs of their suppliers and consumers.  The goal is to ensure all needs and targets are met while developing good business relationships that contribute to longevity. Finally, strong interpersonal skills are necessary for those involved in public relations, sales, advertising or any area of expertise that relies heavily upon effective, strategic communication.

Time management and organization skills

Quite often the development of strong time management and organization skills is a byproduct of extended educational studies. These skills are a tremendous asset when breaking into the agriculture industry. It goes without saying, that agriculture professionals working in logistics must have effective organizational abilities. Many agricultural professionals not only work with a variety of products but they also interact with a variety of farmers and numerous clients.  Time management and organization are also important to laborers, farms and machine operators.  With the constant variables of weather, seasonal price fluctuations and workforce supply and demand, it can be a challenge to maintain schedules and consumer and client demands.


Technology is a leading change producer in all areas of agriculture.  Knowledge of where it is going is incredibly important to anyone desiring to work effectively in the industry. It is absolutely necessary to maintain competence in computer skills, including using a company or farm specific software and interpreting data. Technology is always evolving and will require a selective focus on things ranging from genetics to nutrition to health advances.  Technology is there to assist in improving methods and techniques of breeding, data collection, finances and feed harvest, storage, and transport.

Agriculture professionals need to embrace technological development.  Professionals, particularly farming owners and operators, should always be aware of what new technologies may offer and determine whether adopting new techniques, instruments and advancements are beneficial to their dairy venture.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

When it comes to getting an agricultural education, it is not about learning a set of skills and then being “prepared” for life.  It’s about learning to continuously learn over the course of your whole career.  Progressive employers, farm owners, and farm managers look for lifelong learners. They never say, “Stop! That’s too much!”



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