feeding the future

UCM Agriculture Students Prepare for Rapidly Changing Industry

By Jeff Murphy, '80, '95

Andrew Beeman

Long before Andrew Beeman, ’16, (pictured above) graduated from the University of Central Missouri, he had already carved out the pathway for his future career. His inspiration and preparation came not only from a slew of educators who contributed to his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture–Business Management, but from generations of family members who instilled in him an appreciation for agricultural life.

“I was in a unique position coming into college because I knew I had a job waiting for me upon graduation,” he says. “I did not go to UCM to get a job; I went to become a wellrounded citizen.”

Beeman, who resides on a farm south of Windsor, Missouri, has a life story that may sound familiar to UCM students and alumni who have experienced a tradition of family farming. His early influences in agriculture began with his grandparents, who purchased a farm in the 1950s that they expanded throughout the following two decades. Beeman was immersed in the family agriculture operation from an early age. With aspirations to continue what his grandparents began, he enrolled at UCM and gained a greater understanding of agribusiness as well as many other subjects that help in farm management.

Upon graduation, he became the third-generation manager of Beeman Farms. This operation includes beef cattle, meat goats, corn, soybean and wheat production. He is in charge of the cattle operation and partial manager of row crops, with other duties that range from feeding cows and treating sick animals to making genetic selections and working with business partners and landlords.

“The education I received at UCM taught me how to learn,” Beeman says.

Prussing Farm

 

Learning to Grow

The UCM Agriculture program has served an important role in Missouri’s agricultural fabric for decades. The university is in a prime location to offer academic programs and the types of facilities that serve the career goals of individuals who either want to continue their family heritage in agriculture or be the first to chart their own path in a field with growing career options.

While it is estimated that nearly half of the students enrolled in the university’s agriculture-related degree programs come from backgrounds where production is the main source of income, opportunities are not limited to a student’s upbringing. The dedicated faculty and staff who comprise UCM Agriculture welcome students from all walks of life who want to pursue roles in the production and supply of food, feed, fiber, biofuel and much more in one of the fastest-growing industries in America. With more than 400,000 people in Missouri working in some form of agriculture, the door is wide open for anyone who is willing to make this field their career choice.

“We want to be inclusive of all students who have an interest in agriculture,” says agriculture professor Kyle Lovercamp. “We want to feed the world, so to speak, and we strive to achieve that with the agriculture programs we have here.”

A faculty member at UCM since 2009, he recently served as the interim chair of the Department of Agriculture while the College of Health, Science and Technology (CHST) began to transition agriculture programs from being part of an academic school to a stand-alone department. Following a national search during the spring 2022 semester, Michelle Mullins Santiago, professor of agribusiness economics at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, was hired as department chair with plans to begin her new duties on July 1, 2022.

“Agriculture is about tradition and change, stability and growth,” Santiago says. “Our nation’s agri-food industry is one of the most diverse, innovative industries, providing a wealth of career and technical opportunities.”

Upon accepting the position at UCM, Santiago thanked Lovercamp and associate professor of agriculture Mark Goodwin for their dedication and leadership. Also contributing to the quality program is assistant professor of agronomy Sushil Thapa, who brings real-world applications to the classroom and laboratory through his row crop (corn and soybean) research program. Mike Keilholz is a faculty member on the education side with 30 years of experience teaching agriculture education at the high school level in Missouri.

“The passionate and talented faculty in the Department of Agriculture have a great commitment to experiential learning and service to students,” Santiago says. “While our industry is recognizable for the products produced, it is the connections between people that make it so strong.”

Goats at Farm

Director of Farms Travis Hume with then-students John White, Curtis Reese and Makenzi (Stoy) Harms.

 

Cultivating Connections

Countless UCM Agriculture alumni agree with newcomer Santiago’s assessment, crediting Lovercamp, Goodwin and others for their caring mentorship and for providing a hands-on education that led to a successful career.

“The core agriculture faculty created a community culture for ag students on campus,” says Tiffani Scott, ’16, a wildlife and natural resource conservation graduate with a general agriculture minor who met her husband, Trent, ’16, an agriculture–agronomy major, in Lovercamp’s class. “We still reconnect with our fellow alumni whenever possible and have taken advantage of many networking opportunities that were initiated during our time at UCM. Our experience became so much more than education because of the great people we connected with.”

Tiffani now serves as district specialist for the Pettis County Soil and Water Conservation District. She is also pursuing a Master of Science in Career and Technology Education (CTE) and a Graduate Certificate of Agriculture with a plant science emphasis from UCM.

With a new chair and new program offerings, the Department of Agriculture seeks to build UCM’s reputation as a first-choice destination in Missouri by providing academic choices that not only meet the demands of industry but have broad appeal. Within the Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science are emphasis options in agribusiness management, agronomy, animal science and horticulture. This is in addition to the Bachelor of Science in Education in Secondary Education–Agriculture.

Students who choose one of these degree options, according to Lovercamp and Goodwin, can expect to receive strong classroom learning experiences coupled with many hands-on opportunities in the main disciplines. These are provided at either Prussing Farm, a property donated by Natalie (Prussing) Halpin with facilities just east of Warrensburg city limits, or Mitchell Street Farm, about two blocks east of campus. They also come in the form of internships, which are required of all degree-seeking students in the department and involve agriculture-related businesses and government agencies.

“We don’t learn it until we do it,” Lovercamp says. “That’s one of the aspects of agriculture I love is that it gets your hands dirty literally, not figuratively.”

“It’s also true for our faculty,” agrees Goodwin, who is in his 15th year of teaching at UCM. “We learned it by doing, so we have our students do the same thing.”

They stressed the value of relationships with other academic departments to make learning opportunities possible. UCM Agriculture, for example, works in cooperation with the academic biology and chemistry programs to help prepare students who want to become veterinarians. This is familiar to 2018 alumna Makayla Hill. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture Science with an emphasis in animal science, she completed the four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program at MU.

“Many students accepted into the veterinary program were never able to get hands-on experience with livestock prior to attending,” Hill says. “Through my undergraduate career at UCM there were many opportunities for livestock handling instruction, breeding program education, vaccination programs, as well as an overall education on the intricacies of each operation. My time at UCM has made me a better veterinarian because I understand the needs of the producer to have a successful season.”

UCM Agriculture also works closely with Career and Technology Education to prepare educators for teaching middle school and high school students about food production, in addition to advising FFA programs and adult education groups. Offering the B.S. in Education in Secondary Education–Agriculture ties closely with a long tradition that has roots in the university’s beginning as a Normal School for preparing Missouri teachers.

Makayla Hill

Makayla Hill used the skills she learned working with livestock at UCM to earn her doctorate in veterinary medicine at MU.

 

Hands in the Dirt

UCM’s agricultural facilities continue to evolve to meet the needs of training agriculture students and serving the global community. Mitchell Street Farm, purchased in 1909 as a 36-acre plot on the southeastern outskirts of Warrensburg, now spans 120 acres. On this site, meat goats are raised, and there are opportunities to do livestock evaluations. Students produce hay and grow warm- and cool-season grasses for protein research and to feed the livestock. Additionally, UCM provides an apiary managed by military veterans in the MU Extension’s Heroes to Hives program, a butterfly garden used for biology research and a small teaching garden that Goodwin was instrumental in developing for demonstrating to local elementary school students how edible plants are grown. All agriculture students utilize a greenhouse complex on Broad Street, and the farm staff bales hay and plants agronomic research plots on the land adjacent to the university’s Max B. Swisher Skyhaven Airport.

UCM’s 260-acre Prussing Farm provides a strong educational value while serving as a financial engine to help make the university farms selfsupporting. Leadership toward meeting this goal, along with an ambitious vision, comes from UCM director of farms Travis Hume, ’15, ’18, a two-time alumnus with a bachelor’s emphasis in agribusiness and a Master of Science in Career and Technology Education.

Hume, who works closely with farm manager Brandon Nevils, ’17, spent four years as a student employee living in the Mitchell Street farmhouse. He was promoted to farm manager upon graduation in 2015 and assumed his most recent role as director of farms in 2021. Along with developing a facilities master plan that will seek funding to improve the university farms, Hume works with his team to carry out a vast number of responsibilities. This includes overseeing a herd of Simmental cattle and a registered Aberdeen Angus herd donated by former ConAgra Foods executive Stephen Price Rea, ’71, who holds a degree in Agriculture–Agritech. The Aberdeen Angus herd has ancestry dating back to the first such cattle on North American soil.

Jared Wareham, ’02, ’04, is one alumnus who says the experience he gained working with cattle at UCM set him up for a successful career. His product development team at ABS Global focuses on genetic technologies and scientific innovations that drive profit and efficiency throughout the beef value chain. Wareham credits Professor Emeritus Densil Allen for inspiring his career. “Dr. Allen’s classes lit a spark in me that still burns to this day,” he says. “They really helped confirm that my true passion in life was working with cattle.”

Tractor Sky

 

Future of Farming

Besides cattle, UCM keeps two live mule mascots at Prussing Farm in the 100-by-65-foot mule barn built by George Prussing, Halpin’s grandfather, in 1902. Hume is dedicated to maintaining the historical farmstead while also keeping abreast of the latest technology in agriculture.

“We’re actively and aggressively pursuing a precision agriculture program,” Hume says, adding that doing so means getting supportive agriculture alumni involved.

Among such individuals is Clint Smith, ’16, an agribusiness graduate and part of a multigeneration legacy family of UCM alumni and farmers from the Warrensburg and Centerview areas. Two years ago Smith donated a subscription for an electronic app, Climate, that is being used at the farm to help map data from planting to harvest to ensure crops are being produced as efficiently as possible. This contributes to the data-driven precision agriculture goal, as using the technology ultimately helps reduce the cost of seed, fertilizer and fuel.

“This is more or less a software that takes the guess work out of it,” says Smith, who also donated the seed for this year’s soybean crop at Prussing Farm. “You might say it helps you make decisions.”

Dean Ford and Cody Narron of C&S Construction in Higginsville donated labor and materials to construct two grain bins at the farm. This will benefit both the agribusiness and agronomy programs — not to mention help produce what agriculture is all about: food.

Regardless of which career path a UCM Agriculture graduate may choose, alumni understand the tremendous need for the work they do, and Beeman is one of many great examples. While his UCM degree could open a lot of doors in today’s multilayered farm-to-table economy, like generations of family members who came before him, he chose to keep his focus on food production. It’s hard work, but a career he embraces with passion.

“Making a living feeding people is the most fulfilling operation I could be doing,” Beeman says. “I realized the opportunity I had to return to the family business and the responsibility to maintain it.”

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