You don’t need to have grown up on a farm to forge a successful career in agriculture. Just ask Autumn Barnes, Lethbridge College’s manager of the Integrated Agriculture Technology Centre (IATC), whose curiosity, search for purpose, and post-secondary education have helped her grow within the agriculture community.
Barnes describes the IATC as the service arm of Lethbridge College’s fast-growing ag research teams. Her role is to develop projects and partnerships with industry and the college’s irrigation science, postharvest technology, aquaculture/aquaponics and greenhouse expertise. On any given day, she might be meeting with new clients, helping to develop project proposals, or creating engagement opportunities for farmers and potential partners to see the college’s growing agriculture research portfolio.
Before joining the college, Barnes worked with Ducks Unlimited Canada and the Canola Council of Canada. Both roles involved working with industry, farmers and research partners. Through these experiences, she discovered her place in the ag industry is at the intersection of innovation and knowledge mobilization.
Her ag career began when the 19-year-old in Crescent Beach, B.C. spotted an ad in the community newspaper for a “milk maid” at a local dairy and turkey farm. She had no idea what the job entailed, but she called and got invited to the farm to learn more. That day, she saw cows being milked for the first time, and she convinced the farmer to hire her based on her work ethic and willingness to learn. It was a dream job.
“What I loved about it was the responsibility,” she says. “If I didn’t show up for work, the cows could get sick. My work, day to day, was really impactful.”
For students looking for a sense of purpose, agriculture fits the bill. Producing food meets a universal need. But being labour on a dairy farm was just a starting point. She pursued a college diploma in agriculture then followed with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture at the University of Lethbridge. Along the way she learned from a network of mentors in the sector and discovered the kind of work that appealed to her. Others new to ag may take very different paths.
“There are so many jobs in our industry, really good jobs,” she says. “Our industry is so important and it’s so diverse. You could be in ag tech, or finance, or communications, or you could work in the field or research. You don’t have to be on a farm to work in agriculture. There’s innovation and creativity and so much space for all kind of exciting work in our industry.”
A veteran Agriculture Sciences instructor agrees.
“The current agriculture job market is the best I’ve ever seen” says Byrne Cook, Chair of the School of Agriculture. “I’ve been an instructor at the college more than 20 years and we’ve never been this flooded with industry looking for our ‘Aggies’.”
Lethbridge College’s School of Agriculture offers both diploma and bachelor’s degree programming. A common first year of study gets students acquainted with the primary aspects of agriculture. In the second year, they specialize in their major area, choosing from Agronomy, Agriculture Business or Animal Science. Most students will then start working in the industry, take another diploma or continue into the college’s unique Bachelor of Agriculture Science degree for years three and four.
“We are excited to see our first degree graduates next spring, and we are equally excited to welcome three new Agriculture faculty to campus this summer as our program continues to grow,” Cook says. “The training is local, practical and industry-driven, and we’re thrilled to watch our ag alumni take their places in such a diverse field.”
If you’re interested in learning more about earning a diploma or degree in Lethbridge College’s Agriculture Sciences or related programs, visit Agriculture Sciences online or call 403-382-6991.