The word “agriculture” usually conjures up thoughts of a farmer sowing wheat, or a field hand gathering crops.
What we often don’t realize is that agriculture is as much about management and logistics as it is about foodstuffs.
The International Food Business (IFB) program is a unique dual degree program that brings together students from Dalhousie University and CAH Vilentum University of Applied Science in the Netherlands.
This program allows students to graduate with two bachelor’s degrees—one in agriculture and one in business administration—and lends an international angle to the study of both subjects.
For some further insight into this program, I spoke with Tracy Tate and Steven Gielen, two third-year IFB students from Dalhousie University and CAH Vilentum, respectively.
They gave me the rundown on internships, studying abroad, and the importance of international collaboration in the agricultural sector.
On the academic benefits of the IFB program
With its small class sizes (usually from 10 to 20 students) and its emphasis on group work, the IFB program encourages students from different cultural backgrounds to work together to solve real world problems.
“The cultural experience is a big plus point,” Steven says.
“Everyone has different experiences in group work. For Canadians, it’s very important to meet a deadline. For other cultures, it’s not as important to meet a deadline, so you learn to cooperate and deal with different people. It’s important for every person to be open-minded and ready to explore. You should be able to think out of the box and be ready to talk to each other to accomplish tasks.”
“It’s important in an international program to recognize that there are cultural differences and adapt to them,” Tracy adds.
On studying internationally
“You can’t learn everything in a classroom. By participating in the management of a business, you get to know how they apply different concepts which you learned at university.” —Steven Gielen, third-year International Food Business student, CAH Vilentum University of Applied Science
Due to the IFB program’s international focus, students spend a considerable amount of time studying abroad. Both European and North American students spend their second year studying at CAH Vilentum. The situation is reversed in the third year, when both groups of students come to Nova Scotia to study at Dalhousie’s Agricultural Campus. Students spend their first and fourth-years at their home universities.
“You really learn how big the world is,” Tracy says. “You get to see how different businesses in different countries operate, and you also get to expand your network.”
Students also get a chance to immerse themselves in a different culture. “Dutch people are very straightforward and say what they think,” Steven says. “In Canada, people are very formal. Every culture has different norms and values, and so by participating in this program we are exposed to these different values and forced to adapt to them. This way we can be prepared to participate on a global level in the food sector.”
On their internship experience
IFB students are required to complete two three-month internships, one in Europe following their second year and one in North America following their third year.
Tracy completed her first internship in the quality department of a fruit juice and fruit salad company in the Netherlands. “I learned and witnessed a lot of interesting things, and prepared for and experienced firsthand an IFS audit,” Tracy recalls. “I did some prsupplyoduct specifications and did some tests to see if I could extend the shelf life of fresh fruit.”
Steven’s internship had to do with sustainability. “You learn more from the three-month internship than in two years of school,” he says. “You can’t learn everything in a classroom. By participating in the management of a business, you get to know how they apply different concepts which you learned at university.”
“Every business sets out its own direction and has a different opinion about things,” Steven continues. “This offers a student the opportunity to see things from a different perspective and to think about it.”
What can countries learn from each other in terms of agricultural practices?
“Let me give you an example,” Tracy responds. “In the Netherlands, they’re not allowed to spread manure on the tops of their fields. Instead, they inject it into the soil. This way there isn’t manure filling the air. They are leaps and bounds ahead of [Canada] in terms of agricultural practices.”
The benefits of international collaboration in agriculture extend to legislative practices as well.
“In North America, they value legislation very highly and they strive to comply with these regulations,” Steven says. “This is sometimes a bottleneck for students trying to complete projects. In Europe, legislation is important, but we comply with it differently. For innovation this is good, but for food safety this is bad. It’s important to take the best parts of each culture with you. I do this with Canadian culture, and Tracy does the same with Dutch culture.”
On their plans for the future
“I’m interested in supply chain management, logistics and sales, and I’m thinking of specializing in export management and sustainability,” Steven says. “After I graduate, I might do a master’s or start working for a food company.”
“I’m more into quality assurance,” Tracy says. “I’m considering taking a master’s as well. If I eventually find a job in Europe, that’s fine, and if I find a job in Canada, that’s fine too.”
Photo credit: Alexandra Moss