Wanting to know more about an Agriculture Business Degree? Every successful farmer is a highly skilled businessperson who is supported by highly skilled businesspeople. Farmers spend their lives tending to animals and growing plants, but they also make enormously complex decisions that involve millions of dollars.
There is always a tension between older farmers, who have been making decisions that involve millions of dollars all their lives, and younger farmers, who haven’t been making those kinds of decisions as long, or maybe are just starting out.
If you’re thinking about getting into agribusiness, we put together a complete guide to an agriculture business degree:
Table of Contents
- What is an agriculture business degree?
- What kinds of things will I study to get my agriculture business degree?
- What are the specific courses I will need to study to get my agriculture business degree?
- Are there different kinds of agriculture business degrees?
- Can I get an agriculture business degree online?
- What about getting an M.S. or Ph.D. in Agriculture business?
- Agriculture business degree jobs are highly responsible positions.
- What are some agriculture business degree jobs?
- How much can a farmer or rancher make?
What is an agriculture business degree?
An agriculture business degree is an academic credential of expertise in the financial side of farming, ranching, and horticulture, as well as some newer endeavors such as pisciculture, fish farming. Taking a combination of courses in agriculture and business gives you the knowledge you need to pursue a career as a:
- Agricultural lender, for instance, approving and writing loans at the Farm Credit Bank.
- Commodity marketer, finding buyers for bulk farm commodities such as corn, cotton, sorghum, hogs, and cattle. Commodity marketers have to understand market trends so they can participate in trades in which their employers, farmers, and commodity buyers all go long and short to cover volatility in the commodities market.
- Farm and agribusiness management, supervising the accounting and tax side of accounting to make sure farmers receive every legal tax break and have their documents in order for receiving commodity price support tax credits and loans.
- Retail farm supply and marketing, selling feed, fuel, and equipment to farmers, ranchers, and greenhouse growers. Retail farm suppliers and marketers routinely handle accounts for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars for the inputs farmers and ranchers need to produce crops and livestock.
- Seed and chemical sales, requiring knowledge of sales techniques as well as the principles of lending and finance with an in-depth understanding of agronomy.
- Production agriculture, running a family or corporate farm in the pursuit of profit (which is usually a very long-term goal, which may take years or decades).
Every program that leads to an agriculture business degree includes a dozen or more courses taught by the college of agriculture. It also includes biology, statistics, economics, and finance in the core program that leads to coursework in agriculture and agribusiness.
What kinds of things will I study to get my agriculture business degree?
Agriculture business (more often called agribusiness) degrees are usually offered by land grant colleges with extensive academic programs that support agriculture careers. It’s important to study agriculture business at a college or university with a School of Agriculture because the knowledge you will need for success in your future isn’t confined to business courses.
Similar to high school agriculture courses, college courses in agriculture business assume math skills. Students will need to be comfortable with algebra and statistics to solve farm-related problems. An understanding of calculus often helps — along with enough computer literacy to do simple predictive models of costs and prices.
Agriculture business students need to understand the science of plants and animals to make profitable decisions in agricultural business. And, of course, graduates of agricultural business programs need a good grounding in accounting, commercial law, finance, marketing, and basic skills of negotiation and selling.
What are the specific courses I will need to study to get my agriculture business degree?
Students in undergraduate agribusiness programs master principles of financial accounting, principles of cost accounting, principles of microeconomics, principles of macroeconomics, a course in business law as it applies to agriculture, “agribusiness math” (algebra for analyzing the relationships of inputs and outputs along with basic statistics), and a course equivalent to the first semester of college calculus in their freshman and sophomore years.
Grades lower than a C in any of these core courses likely means that professors will not be willing to accept you into junior and senior courses.
In your junior and senior years, you will take 30 to 50 semester hours of courses that help you understand the unique managerial challenges facing farms, ranches, and agribusiness firms. You will take a second course in statistics or biometrics and you will take courses in the money and banking system along with other business majors.
And you will study scientific aspects of agriculture in enough depth that you can understand the major issues in managing and financing the production, processing, and sale of food and fiber in your state, in the United States, and around the world. Your university will require at least a few courses that are writing-intensive, to develop your skills in written communication. And you will take coursework to develop a specialty.
Are there different kinds of agriculture business degrees?
Possibilities for specialization within an undergraduate agribusiness degree are endless. Some students will develop in-depth expertise in real estate and agricultural finance.
Others will train for positions working with the US Department of Agriculture or international aid organizations in rural development. Some will train to become policy analysts that guide the decisions of huge agriculture-related corporations, while others will work in food marketing systems.
Students interested in public service careers may enroll in a program to earn a B.S. in agribusiness and an M.P.A., master of public administration.
There are also possibilities for interdisciplinary studies for students who already know where their career path is taking them. For instance, they may work with artificial intelligence that uses drones and satellites to measure the growth of crops in fields and the movements of animals in pastureland.
Students may learn how to calculate costs and prices for new genetic engineering products, or they may develop a sophisticated understanding of the commodities markets so they can advise agricultural producers and banks on how to go long and short in the market and how to determine acceptable risk exposure.
Can I get an agriculture business degree online?
It’s possible to earn a B.S. in agricultural business entirely online at some schools, but it’s usually not a good idea unless you are working in agribusiness and you are primarily honing your academic background for advancement in a job you already have.
Especially if you did not grow up on a farm, it’s best to go to a university where you can get hands-on experience on real farms and ranches or at any of the thousands of companies that provide inputs for agriculture or distribute food to the world. It’s always best to get as much interaction with real agribusiness as possible as soon as possible in your career.
Top Five Places for Getting an Agriculture Business Degree Online
One of the realities of being a successful farmer is that it’s not enough to read about agriculture and to take courses in agriculture, it’s necessary to do actual agriculture. But the demands of farming, ranching, horticulture, and pisciculture don’t necessarily fit class schedules and college calendars.
If you want to get your degree in agriculture business on your own timetable, your best bet is to pursue your degree online. Here are five great options:
1. Colorado State University
If you are interested in non-traditional uses of your agriculture business degree, there’s no better online program than the Bachelor of Science program offered by Colorado State University. You can combine your study of agribusiness with over a dozen fields ranging from media to gerontology.
2. Fort Hays State University
Fort Hays State University started operation in 1908, funding itself by running a farm. That same practical orientation carries over to its online program leading to a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture Business degree. The university still owns a farm, by the way.
3. University of Minnesota
The University of Minnesota Online offers courses leading to a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business degree. Their course catalog can give you a good idea of the kinds of things you need to know to get a job when you get your degree. Quoting their catalog, graduation requirements involve learning how to:
- Create and present a strategic agribusiness plan that incorporates market analysis, risk analysis, and financial analysis.
- Select and apply investment analysis techniques and interpret results.
- Construct, interpret, and analyze a set of coordinated financial statements, consisting of balance sheets, income statements, and statements of cash flow.
- Demonstrate competency in the use of spreadsheets, computerized recording keeping, and financial analysis software.
- Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the interconnections between production, sales, and the consumption of food and fiber.
- Evaluate the impact of cash-forward contracts, commodity futures, and options contracts on the buying/selling prices of commodities.
4. University of Tennessee at Martin
The University of Minnesota Online offers three agriculture business degress entirely online: Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business, Bachelor of Science in Farm and Ranch Management, and Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Technology and Management. The university allows students to transfer core courses and up to three upper-division courses from other colleges.
5. Utah State University
Utah State University offers a completely online bachelor’s degree program in agribusiness that costs just $6,460 per year in tuition. Students take at least 65 hours of coursework online but can start at either of two enrollment dates every year.
We also consider Utah State University of the best business schools in Utah.
What about getting an M.S. or Ph.D. in Agriculture business?
A graduate degree in agriculture business can prepare you for an executive role for a farm corporation or a business financing, buying from, or selling to agricultural producers. It can prepare you for college teaching positions. Or it can lead to responsible work in government.
Don’t take shortcuts on your graduate degree. Make sure you have a clear plan for what you want to do when you get your degree before you start, and discuss your plans with faculty at the colleges to which you apply. Make sure you stay “out there” as you get your graduate degree so you will have the connections you need for success when you graduate.
5 Best Schools to get an M.S. or Ph.D. in Agriculture
1. Mississippi State University
Mississippi State University has a Master of Science program in agriculture business that requires just 26 semester hours plus a thesis.
2. North Dakota State University
North Dakota State University offers an M.S. degree in international agribusiness.
3. Oklahoma State University
Oklahoma State University offers a Master of Agriculture degree, without a thesis, or a Master of Science in Agriculture degree, which requires a thesis.
4. Purdue University
Purdue University offers a combination of M.S. in Agricultural Business/Master of Business Administration program. Both degrees or either degree can be completed mostly online.
5. Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University offers an internationally recognized, one-of-a-kind doctoral degree in agricultural business and economics. This degree is especially useful for consulting and advising agricultural lenders.
Agriculture business degree jobs are highly responsible positions.
If you interview people who work in agribusiness around the nation and around the world, you can get the sense that these are people who don’t mess around. They have a sense of gravity about the work they do.
Part of the reason for a no-nonsense approach to work and career is the weight every agribusiness decision has on individuals and families. Consider what is involved in becoming a farmer in the United States in the 2020s.
People who work in agribusiness are critically important to the livelihoods and legacies of farmers and ranchers. Family farming is technically a “small” business, but it’s important to understand the impact of your work if you choose any position using your business agriculture degree.
Investment needed for a typical agriculture business
Let’s consider the kind of investment needed to go into farming from scratch. Most farmers use family assets acquired over generations, but if they don’t, here is what is required:
Every farm or ranch owner needs an agriculture business degree. Most farmers starting out in the twenty-first century will have at least a bachelor’s degree and many will have a master’s degree. Banks are much more inclined to lend money for farmers and ranchers who have the credentials that show they can make a go at turning a profit and repaying their loans. Let’s estimate the cost of a college education at $100,000.
Farmers need equipment. They will need a shop, tools, and mechanical skills to maintain older equipment, but farmers who are just starting out usually can’t afford new equipment. An inventory of 5- to 10-year-old planting equipment in good working condition might cost something like this:
- A tractor for plowing and planting for about $125K.
- A planter for the tractor to pull for about $75K.
- A disc for removing weeds and turning stubble under for about $30K.
- A drill for planting grain for about $40K.
- A chisel plow for $30K.
- A cultivator for $25K.
So, an aspiring farmer needs about $425,000 to be equipped to plant a field. But seed and fertilizer are extra. The cost of planting and nurturing, say, 500 acres of corn will be about $300,000. And once the crop is planted, it will need to be sprayed. A pull-type sprayer costs about $35K.
But there’s no point in planting crops you can’t harvest. A used combine will run about $175K and a used grain cart will cost another $15K. A grain dryer is $30K. The grain has to be hauled to the silo to be sold. That’s another $15K. A farmer will need another $10K for an ATV for running around the farm and about $15K worth of tools put inside a $50K workshop to do self-repair (or spend a small fortune on mechanics).
Oh, wait. We forgot about buying land on which to grow the crops. A 500-acre field will cost about $4,000,000. And there’s seed, fertilizer, and chemicals, which even the most organically minded farmer will wind up buying because the bank won’t lend money if they don’t. The bank will insist that the farmer buys crop insurance. And since the farmer will want to lock in prices by contracting his production, he’ll buy shares in a hedge fund in case everybody’s crop is so good that market prices collapse. There goes another $300,000.
A 22-year-old farmer putting his or her first seed in the ground needs capital of at least $5,000,000 to take a giant risk on weather, trade wars, and markets. Farmers who succeed in the agricultural business are gutsy and smart. They expect everyone they deal with to be extremely well-prepared, too. That’s where an agriculture business degree comes in.
American farmers are some of the best-educated business people on the planet. Many of them have agriculture business degrees. If you are going to find (or ask your mom and dad for) $5 million to start farming, maybe it is a good idea to have a degree in agribusiness. But you don’t have to find $5 million to get into farming to have a great career with an agriculture business degree.
What are some agriculture business degree jobs?
Agribusiness financing and agricultural real estate
Specialists in agribusiness financing and agricultural real estate work for rural development agencies funded by governments and non-governmental organizations, for banks and lending agencies, and for hedge funds. They may be loan officers, specialists in agricultural real estate appraisal, investment advisers, credit analysts, relationship managers, insurance analysts, and risk managers. Expertise in agricultural real estate and finance is essential in managing the transition of farmland to built-up land as the population and real estate prices increase.
Salaries in agricultural real estate appraisal average about $60K per year after three to five years on the job. Loan specialists, risk managers, relationship managers, and risk managers earn a little more, on average about $63K per year. Managers of hedge funds that include agricultural real estate typically earn $80K per year and up.
Specialists in food marketing systems
Specialists in food marketing systems use their understanding of economics and their ability to use tools of mathematical analysis to address operations in buying, selling, transporting, storing, financing, grading, pricing, and calculating risk in the agricultural supply chain.
Holders of agricultural business degrees who work in food marketing do a lot of the same tasks that other supply professionals do in other industries. The difference is that agribusiness supply chain specialists have to understand what goes on at farms where the food is produced and the biology, economics, and regulation of moving food from the farm to the processing plant to the distributor to the grocer to the consumer.
Entry-level salaries for food marketing specialists range from $53K per year for an account analyst or a retail manager to about $80K per year for recent graduates who have significant data science skills. Promotion to a food marketing manager position usually raises the salary to about $125K per year. Analysts hired directly by grocery retailers earn the lowest pay in this specialty, about $45K per year to start.
Specialists in agricultural policy and economics
Specialists in agricultural policy and economics get jobs with state departments of agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They find jobs as lobbyists and representing trade groups.
More than other specialists in agricultural policy and economics need an M.S., not just a B.S., and they may need to study law, politics, and communication. But lobbyists may earn $80K to $200K per year along with many perks from their expense accounts.
Many jobs for recent graduates with an M.S. in agribusiness start at about $60K a year and maybe lead to positions that pay about twice that. The starting salary of a young Ph.D. agribusiness professor will not be a lot higher, but the head of an agribusiness department at a major university typically earns a base pay of about $180K per year.
How much can a farmer or rancher make?
What about the agribusiness major who becomes a farmer or rancher? The U.S.D.A. (U.S. Department of Agriculture) tells us that the average net cash farm income for all farmers in the United States is estimated to be $82,600 for 2020, but farmers in different specialties may earn much more:
- The average net cash farm income for soybean farmers for 2020 is expected to be $91,700.
- The average net cash farm income for wheat farmers for 2020 is expected to be $125,100.
- The average net cash farm income for corn farmers for 2020 is expected to be $153,800.
- The average net cash farm income for hog farmers in 2020 is expected to be $220,500.
- The average net cash farm income for dairy farmers for 2020 is expected to be $235,900.
- The average net cash farm income for commercial organic growers and fruit and nut producers for 2020 is expected to be $234,200.
- And the average net cash farm income for cotton farmers for 2020 is expected to be $316,400.
Those figures are averages. Some farmers earn less, but some farmers will earn more. Farmers can (and often do) incorporate their forms in order to give themselves non-taxable benefits not available to people who work as employees and to reduce their Social Security taxes.
There isn’t really any proof that farmers who have agribusiness degrees earn more than farmers who don’t, but it is true that a first-year farmer can do just as well financially as a farmer who has decades of experience in the field. Farmers and ranchers have considerable downside financial risk, but they can earn superb incomes and profit even more by selling real estate when they retire.