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CWC renews emphasis in agriculture

January 1, 2011

Central Wyoming College is renewing an emphasis in agriculture education and Ben Rux is leading the charge.
Rux, a Crowheart area farmer and rancher with a master’s degree in agriculture and range management, was hired in October to build on existing transfer programs in agri-business and agriculture/range management and to develop an applied program, as well as certificate and credential programs in Farm and Ranch Resource Management. He acknowledges that reviving a program is definitely a challenge and he’s relying on advice from other agriculture instructors and an educated and experienced advisory committee.
“A lot of folks were stunned there wasn’t a program here because of the vast amounts of agriculture,” he said. “People are glad to see it coming back especially now that commodity prices are solid and there is some interest in pursuing agriculture careers.”
Historically, agriculture has been an important part of Wyoming’s economy as well as an essential part of the state’s lifestyle and culture. Rux was anxious to utilize his skills in developing curriculum as well as passing on his knowledge to students.
He estimates a majority of farmers and ranchers in the state are reaching retirement age and he wants to be part of educating the next crop. “The reality is there are going to be a lot of farms and ranches changing hands,” Rux explained. “There needs to be another generation to step in and fill that void.”
Part of his student recruitment plan is working with agriculture instructors at local high schools to develop dual and concurrent credit courses. Rux said he is seeing interest from younger people, noting that several of the state Future Farmers of America officers are from Fremont County.
“We have some outstanding FFA chapters in the county,” he said. “I want to be in that classroom and at least be available to them.”
Rux has been attending conferences and offering scholarships to FFA students to generate additional interest in the expanded program.
He recognizes that the farm/ranch life isn’t for everyone. “I think the people in agriculture are interested in it, not just for the money, but for the lifestyle and preserving family operations,” Rux said.
Fortunately for those who are taking notice of an agriculture career, livestock and commodity prices are at record highs. The supply is tight and the demand is decent, especially from overseas for beef, lamb and wool. And with the expanded production of ethanol, corn is exceptionally high.
The agriculture “lifestyle” isn’t sustainable, Rux said if there isn’t a strong business plan and risks are not managed.
There are multiple programs already in place at CWC that compliment an agriculture program, including the sciences, automotive and welding, business, equine studies, health and safety and the natural resource side of agricultural production. CWC’s Fire Science program corresponds, too.
“The courses that we already have here fit in quite well with our agriculture curriculum,” he said. “You really have to be a jack of all trades if you’re looking to start or continue an agricultural business. We have a lot of classes to help develop those skills.”
At the same time, Rux is building a strong agricultural curriculum, including courses in agro- ecology, farm and ranch business records, livestock production, feeds and feeding, soil science, rangeland plant identification and soil science.
He’s also looking into the possibility of developing some extracurricular activities for agriculture students in range competition and livestock judging, which Rux said is a “big draw for ag kids.”
He has also revised existing courses to better align with programs at transfer colleges and universities.
The CWC Curriculum Committee has approved the new and revised programs and complimented Rux on his “well-written” curriculum development. The new Associate of Applied Science degree goes to the Wyoming Community College Commission and to the CWC Board for approval as well.