BOZEMAN — A new ranching systems degree that is expected to help sustain the agricultural heritage of the northern Great Plains and Intermountain West will be offered at Montana State University beginning this fall as part of a new umbrella program.

An MSU employee moves cattle at the Fort Ellis research station near Bozeman. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham)

The program, called the Dan Scott Ranch Management Program, has been approved by the Montana Board of Regents. The program will offer a bachelor’s degree in ranching systems; in the future, it will also offer outreach workshops and professional networking for the ranching community. The ranching systems degree will be housed in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences in the MSU College of Agriculture.

The Bachelor of Science degree in ranching systems aims to graduate students with the knowledge and skills to employ prudent ranching practices that create value and improve the state and country’s natural resources.

“We’re really excited to offer this degree,” said Patrick Hatfield, head of the Department of Animal and Range Sciences. “We want students (to enroll) who have a strong work ethic, a commitment to the ranching industry and a passion for learning. We hope they will continue a lifetime of learning with the foundation we give them.”

Hatfield said the four-year degree takes a systems-level approach, meaning that rather than focusing on just one discipline, it will integrate course work and experiential learning in animal production, natural resource management and economics and business, as well as applied skills such as communication, lifelong learning and critical thinking. There will also be a structured experiential learning component through internships with ranch partners across Montana and the region.

Students must apply to the degree program during their sophomore year, and each student admitted to the program will be matched with an internship host ranch for two years beginning the summer after the sophomore year. Each student will have individualized learning objectives based on that particular ranch and then return to the classroom and teach their fellow classmates about the unique aspects of their internship experience.

“We want to give students that real-world experience, but we also want to enhance their communication and leadership skills, so they have to come back and take the lead in the classroom,” Hatfield said. “They will be responsible for teaching the other students about the parts of (their internship host) ranch.”

Hatfield added that the students’ internship experiences collectively will reflect the diversity of the ranching industry in Montana.

The Dan Scott Ranch Management Program is named for the late Dan Scott, eldest son of Padlock Ranch founder Homer Scott. Dan Scott served as CEO and manager of the ranch for 50 years. Founded in 1943 by Homer and Mildred Scott, the Padlock Ranch is a diversified cow-calf, farm and feedlot operation in Montana and Wyoming. It is run today by Homer and Mildred Scott’s descendants. In addition, the Scott family started First Interstate Bank in 1968 and remains its majority shareholder.

Dan Scott’s daughter, Risa, provided MSU with a $2 million gift in 2018 in her father’s honor to support the program. To date, MSU has raised $3.5 million for the program, with a goal of raising $6 million, according to Kevin Peterson, MSU Alumni Foundation director of development for the College of Agriculture. The private support will allow the university to hire a program director and set up the unique internship host ranch program for the students.

“This transformative program in ranch management would not be possible without the support of many private donors – most notably, Risa Scott’s $2 million gift to honor her late father, Dan Scott, who was a true leader in the ranching industry,” Peterson said.

Hatfield said there is a great need for the degree program. In 2016, the MSU Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship conducted a survey about the field of ranch management that focused on Montana Stockgrowers Association members and other agricultural stakeholders involved in the land and livestock management business. Hatfield said the survey of more than 200 individuals found that there was a high demand for talented management expertise for both large investment-type land holdings and existing ranches. He said the survey found that existing family ranches had the highest need.

“The survey also showed that the need was not only increasing rapidly, but that it could be effectively addressed at a Bachelor of Science level, so long as it integrates systematic thinking education with experiential learning,” Hatfield said.

Similarly, Hatfield pointed to a 2015 study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture that showed tremendous demand for recent college graduates with a degree in agricultural programs. According to the report, there are an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environment fields in the United States. However, on average there are only 35,400 new U.S. graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher in agriculture related fields, well short of the jobs available annually.

Hatfield said MSU intends the Dan Scott Ranch Management Program to be recognized as the “preeminent ranch management program in the Northern Great Plains and Intermountain West regions.

“When these students graduate, we expect that they will have both the foundational academic training combined with experiential training to one day be leaders in this profession,” he said. “We will lay the foundation for these students to be outstanding future ranch managers. We expect most of our graduates will be young men and women, and we realize there is no substitution for real-life experience.”

Individuals who would like to learn more are invited to contact Hatfield at hatfield@montana.edu or Peterson at kevin.peterson@msuaf.org.

-  By Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service -