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It’s been more than 20 years since Allan Hancock College offered a full-on agricultural science program, but that changes next fall. Students applying for the fall session will have the opportunity to pursue an associate’s degree in the field — figuratively and literally.

Not only is the ag program back in action, the college plans to soon expand the program offerings, adding two associate degrees, one in agribusiness, and the other in plant science.

College officials spent some time with local growers assessing the need for the new degree program, and it was abundantly clear the ag community is 100-percent behind the plan.

For one thing, there is a need among smaller and mid-sized growers that is not being met for a variety of reasons, including shifting demand, ever-changing regulations, advancing technology and new industry developments.

One thing seems almost certain. If the Trump administration stays on course with fostering trade war with America’s largest trading partners, the impacts on agriculture will be huge.

There is another powerful motivator for Hancock College, and it’s been evident for years. Young people grow up in the Santa Maria Valley, but if they want advanced training in ag procedures, they generally have to move elsewhere when they seek education in that field. If nothing else, Hancock’s degree offerings will change that dynamic.

And why, exactly, is all this so vitally important? That’s easy — agriculture is Santa Barbara County’s No. 1 industry. It’s the engine that drives our economic train.

Agriculture continues to be Santa Barbara County's major producing industry, with an annual gross, direct production value of more than $1.4 billion. The economic impact fluctuates from year to year, but is fairly consistent when averaged out over many years.

Another important aspect of Hancock College’s return to educating future growers is that farming and ranching are complicated businesses, relying more and more on the sort of technologies that didn’t exist just a few years ago. The more a young person entering the ag business knows about growing and selling, the better chances of success.

Farming is difficult, but there are compelling reasons why a young person searching for a good career should consider agriculture. You get to spend some quality time outdoors. We realize that’s not for everyone, but it is where a lot of people truly want to be, especially those trapped in an office all day, longing to be in the sunshine.

There really is no dress code, and the only time clock you’ll be punching is the one Mother Nature provides. Besides, who wants to wear dress slacks or a skirt and blouse when there is such potential for getting your clothes dirty.

Most of the time you won’t have to worry about getting stuck in freeway traffic on your way to the office. Cutting back on commuting time is a huge positive.

Depending on what crop you choose to focus on, you will soon realize that the career you’ve selected is one that is of enormous benefit to mankind. Farmers and ranchers feed the planet — assuming there continues to be relatively free trade between nations. And for young folks who like toys, growers get to play with some really big machines.

It’s a good life, as so many Central Coast families in the growing business can tell you. Agriculture also is a integral part of this region’s history, and will remain so, as long as people need food, flowers and other farm products.

It’s a legacy worth being a part of, and for that, Hancock College’s revived ag program deserves praise.

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