Studying Agriculture in the United States

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Sorghum Field

In this article, I hope to share a taste of how agricultural studies are perceived in the United States and how it might impact your decision whether to study agriculture there.

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Back when I started my undergraduate study, having a major in the agricultural sciences seemed to be amusing. Maybe because I grew up in the city and mostly interacted with city people, I was repeatedly asked, “What are you going to do by studying agriculture? Farm? Plough fields?” to which I would usually answer with a smile and a subtle nod.

Because, to be honest, why not? Agriculture accounts for more things in our life than we realize. The main thing being, you know, food.

With a population projected to reach 9 billion people in 2050, food security is surely becoming a more pressing issue which needs to be addressed holistically by everybody. Especially when we look at Indonesia. Our population is the fourth largest in the world. We have numerous natural resources and a climate that some other countries can only dream of. Yet, what has been done about it? As in, really been done about it?

I had, still have, and will keep having big dreams for Indonesia’s – and ultimately the rest of the world’s – agricultural endeavors. I don’t want it to only be dreams though, which is why I started my conquest to collect as much knowledge as I can, especially on agriculture. I was already aware of the following points during my undergraduate study in Bogor. However, the opportunity to study agriculture in the US further accentuated these points for me.

Agriculture is not only about farming in the fields (and using bulls for ploughing)

The vast web of agricultural knowledge expands from the tiniest entities to the largest spatial areas. From microbiology to climate change, agriculture intertwines in between. This is widely understood by academic institutions in the US. Within the Colleges of Agriculture in most US universities, you will see diverse areas of study ranging from food science, plant pathology, agronomy, agricultural engineering, agricultural economics, agricultural communication, animal sciences, fisheries and marine biology, plant sciences and genetics, nutrition, natural resources management, and several more.

It is also becoming common in the US to see interdisciplinary programs focusing on food security and agricultural development. ‘Interdisciplinary’ means that you don’t only study one specific field of study. Your expertise may be focused on one particular field but you will also be trained to look at agriculture as a complex whole, linking topics such as economy, sociology, climatology, and even politics into the picture. Having being exposed to how broad agriculture is, therefore, leads us to…

Collaborations matter a lot in agriculture

Studying agriculture in the US gives you a taste of how multifaceted agriculture it is. This is often acknowledged by numerous collaborations in agriculture. It is not uncommon for private sectors to collaborate with academic institutions. Federal agencies also do a lot of collaborations with universities. Many research projects are funded by either a federal institution or private corporations. Having the chance to study agriculture in the US will give you a peek on how agriculture is a collaborative effort. It does not stand alone. Due to this, it needs to be acknowledged that…

Agriculture is a massive non-linear industry

The US has been doing mass production of agricultural products from way back when and they are pretty good at doing it. Studying agriculture in the US will introduce you to this. You will see how the process of getting products from the field to the hands of direct consumers, requires more than just plant, wait, harvest, sell. You will begin to see how a hefty lot of people are involved in bringing the food to your plate, which more than often we take for granted. The US also has tight policies when it comes to food. With their people’s increasing awareness of healthy, clean, and safe food, there are more hoops to jump through to verify that what has been produced can be marketed and distributed. Consumer needs and demands are taken seriously and often becomes the drive for the industry. Because, hey, eventually…

Those who have access to food are those who survive

Okay, that may have sounded dramatic, but when you think about it, food is how we roll. It’s the core of our survival. Agriculture and the notion of producing enough food should be a no-brainer. In the US, mechanization in agriculture is not a luxury, its common sense in order to have the capacity for mass production. Moreover, environmental issues entailed with agriculture are also important and gaining more attention. Conservation of water, soil, and energy are important considerations in farming and agricultural practices. The term “sustainable agriculture” is widely popular because it leads towards continuation and long-term projections for agricultural production. This is something you will encounter many times when studying agriculture in the US. What is the “big picture” related to your agricultural studies? Is it scalable and capable for a long-term approach? How they care about their agricultural status and the people involved in it, is a big take home lesson when studying agriculture in the US.

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Studying agriculture in the US has not only given me valuable insights on agriculture outside of Indonesia, but also worldwide. So for those who are already studying agricultural related topics and want to study abroad, then the United States is a go-to place for it. In addition to the points above, the US has what is called the Land-Grant system in their higher-education system. Some universities in the US are known as land-grant universities. In short, land-grant universities are public universities which were established with the purpose of Agricultural and Engineering education. Each state in the US has at least one land-grant university and these universities usually have strong programs in agricultural sciences. Personally, I would recommend looking into land-grant universities if you are thinking of studying agriculture in the US.

So, there you go – hopefully these two cents of mine would be beneficial to those who want to expand their agricultural knowledge, and even beyond.

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Cininta Pertiwi
Currently a PhD student and research assistant in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Florida. Previously conducted Master's study in Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University through a Fulbright scholarship. Majored in Agricultural Engineering during undergraduate study at Bogor Agricultural University (IPB). Aspires to be involved in agricultural and rural development in developing and/or underdeveloped regions.

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