If you drive by the Ozarks Technical Community College campus in Christian County this fall, you might see a cow or a goat out grazing.
OTC Richwood Valley will soon be home to an 11,250-square foot agriculture education center. Christian County will be home to all of the OTC system’s agriculture classes, and students will come to Ozark to learn the skills that will shape the future of Missouri farming. All of OTC’s agriculture education classes will move from Springfield to Ozark when fall classes start this year.
“The move to Ozark to the Richwood Valley campus is such a blessing to us,” Construction Trades Department Chair Rob Flatness said. “I’m so excited about the opportunities that we have.”
At an Ozark Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at The OC on July 25, Flatness explained the cramped conditions students and instructors face on OTC’s main Springfield campus.
“As of last year, my outdoor space was less than you see in this room right now,” Flatness said, gesturing around the banquet room at The OC.
“It was very difficult to have any type of animal lab, especially in an urban area whenever you’re trying to do a veterinary procedure,” Flatness said, setting up a punchline, “with people driving by that might not understand what that veterinary procedure is.”
OTC offered a certification program in turf and landscape management that took the average student one year to complete. Flatness said it was equally difficult to teach students how to use earth moving equipment such as tractors, skid loaders and a backhoe on the urban campus.
OTC now offers an associate of applied science in turf and landscape management and an associate of supplied science in agriculture.
“Within that agriculture degree, we have three options: an animal science option, a plant science option and then a general agriculture option,” Flatness said.
The degree programs are built with transferring options in mind. Flatness said OTC works with Missouri State, College of the Ozarks, Lincoln University and others to send students onward to obtain bachelor’s degrees.
“About eight years ago, we switched gears and we saw that a lot of our students were transferring on. They were getting our technical degree and then they were transferring on to MSU or a four-year university to pursue an agriculture degree. We took advantage of that, and we built an agriculture program,” Flatness said.
As part of the $2 million construction project on the Ozark campus, Flatness said OTC is working with the Missouri Forage and Grasslands Council to turn 25 of the 90 acres at Richwood Valley into a livestock grazing area that will include goats, sheep and cattle. In southwest Missouri, people who work in agriculture need to know beef cattle.
“We are sitting in one of the densest populations of beef cows in the world,” Flatness said. “If you go just a little bit farther, one or two counties west of us here (in Ozark), there is a 30-mile radius that has the highest density of cow-calf pairs in the world.”
Knowing that its agriculture classes would be moving from Springfield to Christian County, OTC conducted a needs assessment survey of stakeholders within about a 50-mile radius of the Richwood Valley campus to determine what sorts of programs were needed in the Springfield metro area.
“It was determined that there was a huge need for agricultural mechanics in this area,” he said. “So to break into that market, we’re actually starting small.”
By small, Flatness doesn’t mean a small number of students. He means small engines found in chainsaws, trimmers, commercial mowers, ATVs and UTVs.
“There is a desperate need for technicians that are trained to work on that equipment. One of the first things that we always ask is, ‘Is it a viable career that these people can raise a family on?’ And yes, it is a livable wage. The dealerships, specifically, are really stepping up,” Flatness said.
Christian County’s campus
OTC RIchwood Valley Campus President Jeff Jochems gave members of the chamber of commerce a short history of the campus, which opened in 2007. He also gave some figures from its present use.
About 75 percent of the 1,000 students who attend classes at OTC Richwood Valley per year come from Ozark or Nixa. Many of them move on to other universities when they finish at OTC.
“The majority of those students are in our transfer program, looking to take those general education classes and move on to another institution,” Jochems said.
Jochems explained how Richwood Valley partners with the Ozark School District, Nixa Public Schools and other Christian County school systems.
Anywhere from 180-200 Ozark High School juniors and seniors attend classes at OTC Richwood Valley each year.
“The nice thing is the Ozark School District pays the tuition and required fees for those students,” Jochems said. “It’s a great partnership.”
While you don’t have to have a college degree to start a farm, an education is needed for students who want to work in agribusiness, or in any other area where farming crosses into other ports of commerce.
“The agriculturalists of today are not necessarily going out with the ability to buy 500-1,000 acres and start up a farm that they can actually make a living and raise a family on. The folks that we are producing, the graduates that we have who are transferring on—they’re not necessarily going back and farming, per-say, they’re going into the support industry,” Flatness said.
People with agriculture degrees go to work for seed companies or chemical companies, or they go into sales or real estate. Some go to work in agribusiness and work in farm lending.
“The banks love those people because they understand the feasibility of loaning money on a piece of ground and whether it can be profitable or not,” Flatness said.
Richwood Valley’s exclusive offerings
This fall, the agriculture program will be one of three OTC programs specific to the Richwood Valley campus. The Ozark site also hosts OTC’s medical laboratory technician program and its physical therapist assistant program.
Director of the OTC medical laboratory technician program Tony Evans said that most of its graduates go to work in Missouri, and the demand for lab technicians is very high.
“If anybody has ever gone to the doctor or into the hospital and had their blood drawn, or had to pee into a cup, we’ve been involved with their life,” Evans joked. “We teach our students how to conduct tests, but more importantly be able to interpret the results.”
Niki Wallen, director of the physical therapist assistant program, said that an average of 24 students at a time study for 17 months in order to become physical therapist assistants.
PTA’s work with patients of virtually any age. Wallen said the variety they experience on the job leads many to stay in the field for the entire span of their careers.
“As far as the profession goes, we have a very low burnout rate because the individuals that we work with are from very young, pediatric, to the very old, the geriatric population,” Wallen said. “Although it’s a very specific degree, it’s a very broad outcome as far as the longevity that a person is in this profession.”