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agriculture students work in orchard

New degree serves booming agriculture sector

Bachelor of Applied Science in Agricultural Sciences program serves a growing need in the Yakima Valley

Employment in Yakima County’s agriculture sector is booming, with a nearly 30% increase in jobs from 2010 to 2020. Despite that increase, employers in the agriculture sector are finding it hard to fill leadership positions.

This coming fall, Yakima Valley College will help fill that gap by offering a new Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Agricultural Sciences degree.

The new BAS program will build upon the strengths of several associate degree and certificate options currently offered by YVC’s Agriculture Department.

“Students enrolled in the BAS program will gain the advanced technical skills, problem-solving capabilities and leadership abilities that are in high demand in our region’s crop and animal production and supporting industries.” — Trent Ball, Agriculture Department chair

Applications to enter the program’s first cohort are being accepted March 1 through May 31. Classes will begin September 2022.

Ball noted that adding the BAS option to YVC’s existing degree and certificate options in agriculture will give students in the region a chance to earn a bachelor’s degree close to home for the first time. Classes will be offered on the college’s Yakima and Grandview campuses for the convenience of students in both the upper and lower Yakima Valley.

Hector Mendoza who works as an irrigation manager at Wyckoff Farms is excited about the prospect of completing his bachelor’s degree right here in the Yakima Valley.

“What made me interested in the new BASAG program is that it is local and makes [earning a degree] a lot more attainable while working full-time and limiting my travel,” shared Mendoza. “I probably would not have been able to attain my academic goals [without YVC’s program] because I was never able to afford the cost of attending a university.”

Eventually Mendoza hopes to earn a master’s degree and manage or own his own farm.

“I’m looking forward to being able to educate myself in a field that interests me as well as being able to feel a higher level of satisfaction by accomplishing what I want.”

Students in YVC lab course
Trent Ball works with Vineyard and Winery Technology students

“Our program is designed for students at the very beginning of their careers who are interested in a four-year degree and it’s also designed for working adults who want to advance in their careers by earning their bachelor’s degree,” said Agriculture Instructor Holly Ferguson. Students in the program will develop broad skills in finance, strategic operations, harvest technology, soil health, plant physiology, pest management and more.

“A four-year degree will provide graduates of YVC’s program with more salary potential and improve their marketability,” Ferguson said. Potential compensation for managers in the farming, fishing, forestry and related industries with a bachelor’s degree can start at $68,090 annually depending upon other experience.

Key features of the BAS in Agricultural Sciences program include:

    • Hands-on learning is incorporated in all classes.
    • Classes are taught by agriculture science faculty with extensive experience in the industry.
    • Hybrid courses combine in-person and online instruction, with evening classes meeting once or twice a week.
    • A cohort model that enables students to progress through the program together, offering additional opportunities for professional networking.
    • Completion of the program in two years for full-time students who have already earned their associate’s degree.

YVC Agriculture Department faculty and staff worked with the region’s agriculture industry for several years to determine educational and training needs in developing the new BAS in Agricultural Sciences program. With more than 33% of producers in Yakima County being 65 and older, a wave of retirements coming in the near future means the demand for well-prepared managers is particularly acute in Washington state’s No. 1 producer of fruits, berries, livestock, poultry and other animal products.

Student inspects pests in orchard
Student analyzing insect trap catches in apricot orchard

“Employment opportunities are available and steadily growing,” said Agriculture and Biology Instructor Stacey Gingras. “With the increase in technological advancements in agriculture, the labor force will need to be increasingly skilled and adaptable for agriculture producers to continue to see success in domestic and global markets.”

Hayley Testerman who currently works as an administrative department coordinator at Pape Machinery Ag & Turf is also excited about the opportunity to further her education and opportunities without moving out of the area.

“I am extremely excited to see the opportunities this [program] will bring to the Yakima Valley and surrounding areas. Especially for those of us that do not want to move miles away and pay crazy amounts in tuition to grow in our careers,” said Testerman. “We were just going over numbers from last year in sales and saying how much potential there is in the Yakima Valley. This is another step in helping the upcoming generation in farming to be successful.”