Warning: getimagesize(http://www.thebusinessjournal.com/images/stories/2012/education/tom-burns.jpg) [function.getimagesize]: failed to open stream: HTTP request failed! HTTP/1.1 403 Forbidden in /home/tbjsite/public_html/plugins/content/smartresizer/smartresizer.php on line 598

Fresno State to launch ag MBA option in fall

Tom Burns, manager of the graduate business program at the Craig School of Business at Fresno State, said interest is building the university’s new Ag MBA program.Tom Burns, manager of the graduate business program at the Craig School of Business at Fresno State, said interest is building the university’s new Ag MBA program.The Fall 2012 semester at California State University, Fresno will introduce a new elective area to the Master of Business Administration degree to prepare leaders for the evolving agriculture industry.

The new program combines graduate courses in agricultural business with core courses from traditional business, and will provide those who choose a career in farming with the opportunity to know the business as well as the scientific end of agriculture.

The “Ag MBA” structure will consist of the same curriculum as the conventional MBA, but with a few modifications. Courses in farm accounting, agribusiness managerial accounting, agricultural finance, agricultural capital markets and farm and ranch appraisal comprise the financial planning field of this new degree program. Applications are not being accepted for the program yet, but it is already attracting some attention.

“We’ve had four inquiries in a week and a half,” said Tom Burns, manager of the graduate business program at the Craig School of Business at Fresno State. “It will take us a while to get the word out, but after that, we’ll do all right.”

Financial planning is an extremely important aspect in the development of a farm, and while many farmers know their agricultural sciences well, they aren’t as skilled on the business side. They often find it necessary to hire someone from the outside to take care of their economic planning needs, such as where to invest and who to talk to when seeking credit.

Burns said that it is important to know details such as when commodity prices change and which crops are making a larger profit at a particular time. Some crops take years to develop, while others are ready in a relatively short time. Everything from buying seed and chemicals to grow the crop to distribution and retail sales after it is picked are skills that students will learn in this program.

“There are too many variables,” Burns said. “Knowledge takes some of the gamble out.”

Students also need to know what is going on outside the U.S. in China and other countries, Burns said. There is an international experience class where students are taken to a country such as Hong Kong, which is within five hours of half the world’s population in India, China and Indonesia. Studying in another country allows students to see things from a different point of view, Burns said.

Twenty to 25 percent of agriculture students become traders or wholesalers, Burns said. Many have gone to work for Paramount Farms, which is the world’s largest pistachio processor and has a plant and farming facility in Lost Hills, which is in Kern County.

“There’s a tremendous need for these people,” Burns said. “There is a clientele list that is not being served.”
One program that has brought a lot of ag-related attention to Fresno State is the Agriculture Lending Institute, an agricultural finance-training program that began in 2003 and is held each summer at the school’s University Business Center. The program involves two one-week sessions designed to be completed over a two-year period, and although it is not for college credit, a number of companies send their employees here for training.

“Fifty to 60 people every summer come here to go through it,” Burns said. “Some of them come internationally. If we develop a reputation, we can actually draw people from around the world.”

Burns said that many schools would have trouble with a program like the Ag MBA, but he’s confident the fact that Fresno State specializes in agriculture will make this new program a success.

“It’s hard for universities to stay focused on an industry,” he said. “But we can, because we’re specialized.”