Niko Hyppönen, an alumnus of Agricultural, Environmental and Resource Economics (AGERE), currently works as an Operations Manager at MTK Central Ostrobothnia, a regional interest organisation.
What was it like to study in the Master’s Programme in Agricultural, Environmental and Resource Economics?
Niko: I was thrilled with my studies, and I learned a lot. The studies are theory-heavy, and some exercises (calculations) were challenging for me. I had no background in economics or mathematics, but I did manage with perseverance. My practical, solid background in agriculture was helpful because I could connect the dots between high theory and practical applications. Pedagogically, I put the cart before the horse: perhaps it would have been easier the other way around. But I also had something to contribute to the theoretical discussions from my own background and add to the learning experience of others.
What kind of work tasks have you had relating to the programme?
Niko: I’d already worked in the field before my university studies. After completing my vocational education in agriculture, I worked as an agriculture holiday and stand-in service, doing the actual hands-on farm work and paperwork in the office. Later I advanced to the position of deputy director of Toholampi’s agricultural stand-in services.
During my studies, I started working part-time for The Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners Central Ostrobothnia (MTK Central Ostrobothnia). MTK Central Ostrobothnia is a regional interest organisation representing farmers, forest owners and rural entrepreneurs in Central Ostrobothnia. I also scored an internship at the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). I completed my master’s thesis for them too. After my graduation, I started to work full-time at MTK Central Ostrobothnia. I’ve been working as an Operations Manager at MTK Central Ostrobothnia for about a year.
In my job, I feel like an interpreter or a message bearer between the farmers and the academia. On the one hand, I understand the interconnections between research and can help verbalise it to farmers. On the other hand, I can formulate issues on the ground level for academics to have better research that answers the problems on the ground.
Did you have a clear career path from the beginning?
Niko: I didn’t have a clear path I wanted to follow. I like to introduce myself as the big boy from a small dairy farm. Career-wise, I never thought I’d be studying as much as I have. After middle school, I was encouraged to do a double degree: upper secondary school and a vocational degree in agriculture simultaneously. I thought I would stop there. But then I was encouraged to continue to a bachelor’s degree in agriculture at a University of Applied Sciences. Then I thought I would stop. For some reason, still unbeknownst to me, I decided to apply to AGERE for a master’s degree and I was accepted. True to my habit, I have already talked about doing a PhD at a later point.
I’ve always had agriculture close to my heart. They say any society is three meals from anarchy. If we don’t have food and food at the right time, place, and for the right prices, we will have chaos. Agriculture is how we feed ourselves; I don’t see this changing soon. With the global population peaking at 8 billion, food is more important than ever. It’s a societal question too. We need to look at how we produce food in a manner that is economically, ecologically and socially sustainable. I want to do my part so that the people who produce our food feel like their work is appreciated and dignified.
Who is the programme and career opportunities suited for?
Niko: I think this programme is for people who want to understand how the agricultural markets work; how to run a farm and develop that farm; or those who want to dive into the deep end and learn about the development and research of the agricultural production economy. It would help if you were interested in these topics and willing to learn more. Still, I don’t think you need a background in agriculture – an interest suffices. At the same time, I believe practical experiences give you more substance.
Which part of your studies has helped you the most in your career?
Niko: Professor Xavier Irtz’s agricultural and food policy lectures hit me like a thousand volts. I use those skills almost every day. A slide from those lectures explaining the market power and competition in the Finnish food chain and how the market power of retailers is growing and concentrated is probably tattooed into my brain. But the whole of market economic research has been beneficial in my work. It opened my eyes to agricultural statistics and economics research, and what kinds of things are studied currently.
I think it’s also essential to understand how research is conducted and have the critical skills to evaluate whether some research is up to the standards. For instance, if a piece of research related to agriculture is quoted on the news and it’s something negative, I’m sure to get calls from our members. I can then look at the research and see if the news article has been correct, or if something’s been omitted, or something has been overlooked in the piece of news.
Do you have any special plans for the future?
Niko: I haven’t shut the door on PhD studies. It is obvious that I will never stop studying, even if I don’t end up doing a PhD. I can stop for a little while, but I believe in life-long learning and keeping up with the times. I think it’s also crucial for my work to be able to advocate for the well-being of farmers. I like my work at MTK, and I want to be a better advocate for farmers and agriculture. I work to ensure that we have nutritious, safe food available in all situations, including crises and climate conditions. I will most likely also take up being an agriculture and forestry entrepreneur, as it is our family business.