Getting dirt from other countries under your fingernails is a fantastic way to discover the challenges and solutions of farmers all over the world. By going overseas to study agriculture you’ll have the opportunity to experience different philosophies concerning land use, get hands-on experience with time-honored agricultural methods, or see the cutting-edge of the future of farming.
We’ll always need people to study agriculture because food is not optional. We all need to be fed. Learning just how people are fed around the world is where your study abroad will be invaluable. Practices and techniques vary from place to place, climate to climate, and culture to culture. When you go overseas, you’ll learn that there are more ways to grow food, raise livestock, and run a farm than you may have otherwise realized.
Chances are that your program will focus heavily on field work. Usually, no previous field work experience is required as you’ll be trained on location. As part of this hands-on opportunity, you will work alongside local farmers to learn exactly how people grow crops and raise livestock in your host country. Programs like these also have a heavy emphasis on cultural immersion. You won’t just be learning about farming, but getting to know the farmers, their families, and their communities too.
Agriculture is inextricably tied to the land. With the world’s growing population, it is becoming increasingly necessary to find and develop methods of sustainably-grown food. Many programs focus on farming in ways that protect the local ecology by using sustainable practices. By going overseas to study sustainable agriculture and conservation you’ll be exposed to methods that you might be able to replicate or adapt to wherever your career takes you.
It’s one thing to grow the crops and it’s another thing to make it profitable. Many programs have a focus on the business side of agriculture. This covers such topics as farm and ranch management, economics, human resource management, and marketing. Agricultural production is often part of a global supply chain and international market. By studying ag-management overseas, you’ll learn invaluable lessons about how your future suppliers and customers operate.
Food Science & Technology
If you’d rather don a lab coat than overalls, then consider a program focused on the science behind our food. All around the world food scientists are working on methods to feed a rapidly growing global population in a more sustainable way. Whether it’s developing efficient organic growing practices in Europe, breeding drought-resistant grains in Australia, or studying the medicinal properties of traditional ingredients in Latin America, you'll have the chance to be a part of the future of farming.
Your experience will depend very much on where you end up going. Disparate climates, environments, and cultures mean that agriculture is practiced differently in different places. Below are some common locations to consider in your search for an agricultural study abroad program.
With over 60% of its landmass designated for grazing and farmland, this continent of a country has no shortage of opportunities for you. Food production in the era of climate change is of particular concern in Australia. Predictions of increased water-insecurity in the near future have Australian farmers and researchers working hard to find sustainable solutions. While down under you’ll be on the front lines of agricultural innovation for a changing climate. What you learn here, you may be able to apply to other at-risk locations back home.
Go beyond the tulip fields to experience the cutting edge of the latest agricultural revolution. This tiny country has some of the highest regarded university agricultural programs worldwide, particularly at Wageningen University. Here and at other schools, you’ll have the chance to take part in sustainable agriculture and agroecosystem management. You’ll also see what it’s like to grow food in a country with stricter organic and non-GMO standards than the US. The Netherlands prides itself on being a leader in organic agricultural developments, so why not learn from the best?
As a developing nation in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is a wonderful location to study agriculture abroad. You’ll experience time-honored farming techniques that are driven by the seasonal monsoon floods. This is a great place to experience small-scale agriculture and lower-tech food production in a region with a threatened ecosystem and a growing economy.
The United Kingdom
Farming and husbandry in the United Kingdom is a healthy combination of tradition and modernity. The UK has one of the most efficient agricultural systems worldwide, with only 2 percent of the workforce producing 60 percent of the country’s food needs. Some of its universities have had courses of study focused on agriculture for centuries yet have adapted them to farming in today’s world. You’ll have the chance to get in the mud at your university’s own farm and visit other farms around the country to see how it's done.
This small Central American country is best known for its stunning beaches and vibrant ecosystem. In the ag world, it's also known for using indigenous farming techniques to sustainably grow food for local consumption and cash crops (like your favorite coffee and chocolate) for export. In Costa Rica, you’ll visit local farms to experience first-hand how to make the land profitable while protecting it as a precious resource.
How to Choose an Agricultural Study Abroad Program
Many programs have a specific focus, so you’ll want to choose one that meets your interests and academic needs. Whether you’re looking for a program that focuses on sustainability, indigenous methods, ag-management, or something else, there’s a program for you!
While you seldom need previous field experience, there will likely be course prerequisites, so read carefully before you sign up. Also, check with your own university to make sure the credits are transferable.
In addition to coursework, you should choose a country that you’re interested in living in. Going to another country for an extended period means you’ll have the opportunity to be immersed in a new culture. This is especially true if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in rural farmland. When thinking about where to study abroad, consider how you’ll spend your time outside of class and what you want to get out of the experience as a whole.
Health & Safety
Staying healthy and safe should be a priority whenever anyone heads out to the fields and barns. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous job sectors worldwide due to the need to work with large machines and livestock. Your program will have safety protocols in place which you should familiarize yourself with and abide by. Always heed the directions of your instructors, use common sense, and you should be fine.
When working in rural areas and with animals you run the risk of exposure to various diseases. Check with your program to find out if there are any vaccinations you need to get beforehand. This may include inoculations for such diseases as rabies, polio, typhoid, and others depending on where you go.
What you pack can also keep you safe. Flip-flops are fine for weekend trips to the beach, but you’ll also need sturdy work boots, denim, and heavy-duty gloves to help prevent injury when in the fields.
Other Need to Know
Agricultural study abroad programs typically last an entire semester. Depending on where in the world you go, you can be placed in a program for either the fall or spring semester. Some students stay for an entire academic year in order to see the entire process from planting to harvesting. For those of you short on time, there are a number of quick but intensive summer programs out there as well.