Morningside names new ag program director
SIOUX CITY – Morningside College’s new applied agriculture and food studies program will be among those to be housed in a classroom building under construction on the Sioux City campus.
Chris Benson, 43, a 1994 graduate in agricultural business and economics, was named director of the new program and will assume his role on March 1. The program will accept its first students this year, he confirmed.
Benson worked for 20 years with Iowa Beef Processors/Tyson Foods Inc., with numerous management positions in the two companies’ pork and beef divisions. He said he’s looking forward to his new responsibilities.
Morningside President John Reynders said the college is fortunate in Benson’s decision to administer the new program, designed to give students what he termed a broad exposure to scientific, cultural and business principles related to agriculture.
“Having someone with Chris’ experience and knowledge of agriculture and food production is a tremendous asset for our new program,” Reynders said. “His agribusiness connections and understanding of this key segment of the economy can greatly benefit our students’ interest in pursuing a wide range of careers with companies involved directly or indirectly in food production.”
Benson said he sees his new responsibilities as giving him opportunity to impact students as he was influenced by Morningside’s former director of agricultural business, Dick Weikert.
“This is the most important thing for me,” Benson said, “helping young people become good at what they love to do and for them to be able to do it every day. When you live in this part of the country, almost everything in our local economy is impacted by agriculture.
“When you think about all of the companies around the world that support farming, you realize that many of these companies are in our own backyard within 100 miles of Sioux City. Each of these can offer unique experiences for our Morningside students.
Benson said the applied agricultural and food studies program is a unique opportunity to provide students with hands-on experiences with these manufacturing and processing plants.
“It’s exciting for us that our externship program can also give students outside this 100-mile radius exposure to these national and even global industries,” he said.
An externship is similar to an internship, but is generally of a shorter duration. Students may or may not receive academic credit for them, depending on the institutions they attend.
Benson is quick to admit his own love of agriculture, an outgrowth of working on his uncle’s farm and experiences with local farmers through his family’s livestock trucking business.
His interest in food production was later reinforced with a 1993 Iowa Beef Processors internship at the company’s Dakota City plant and subsequent offer of a sales position after graduating from Morningside.
“Agriculture continues to change with our experienced boom over the past decade,” Benson said. “This boom has created resources for expansion and technology advancement with regard to environmental impacts, GMOs, water and climate concerns along with those on antibiotic and hormone use in livestock and livestock handling,
“With fewer people growing up in rural America, we’re seeing fewer exposed to livestock and grain production,” he said. “As a result, we need to do a better job of educating people on the good things that are happening in the industry so that they realize the food chain is as safe as it has ever been.”
Morningside’s new ag program, Benson said, will give students breadth and flexibility as well as the development of important communication, critical thinking, analytic and problem-solving skills necessary to be able to convey this message.
Students may opt to combine applied agricultural and food studies major with minors in related studies including environmental policy/law, sustainable agriculture, general business, political science or journalism.
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