With graduation time at hand for most Mid-South universities, speakers of every stripe — from politicians to captains of business to TV personalities — will be offering words of wisdom and challenge to students about to set forth in the world.

Although his comments were directed at young foresters at Mississippi State University, the observations of Dick Molpus, a former politician and now president of Molpus Woodlands Group, which manages more than 850,000 acres of timber land, could apply equally to agriculture or almost any profession.

As the speaker for the 2010 Carlton N. Owen Lecture Series at MSU’s College of Forest Resources, he noted that forestry, like other businesses today, is undergoing a generational change.

“When I was coming up in my family’s lumber business [which became the 10th largest independently owned lumber operation in the nation], a forestry career path was pretty clear cut — you’d get a degree and go to work for an integrated forest products company and one day you’d retire there.

“But today’s forester isn’t just going to get a degree and then spend his or her time out cruising timber for a big company. He or she is going to need to know about genetic engineering and tree growth characteristics, biometrics, geographic information systems (GIS), and how to do more with less.

“All our foresters now go out to evaluate and monitor woodlands using computer software with 150 variables, and unbelievably more sophisticated decision-making tools are coming along with increasing frequency.

“A student preparing for a forestry career today has two clear-cut choices: failure or success.

“The recipe for failure: Only know how to identify trees and cruise timber. Be satisfied with limited skills. Have only fair or poor English skills — Good Old Boy-speak just doesn’t cut it in today’s sophisticated international business arena. Not have a grounding in liberal arts in order to be able to interact with people on a world scale. Be small-minded and suspicious of other cultures — our employees are now working with people from 30 different countries.

“For success in today’s and tomorrow’s forestry, you need to stay abreast of politics and governmental regulation and reform at all levels; stay current in your profession and be a part of various professional organizations; have sharp communications skills to interact with people from all over the world; be able to write and speak well; be adept in, or even have another major in business/finance/marketing, economics, bioenergy, GIS, or even a CPA; and walk around in boots but be able to talk ROI with sophisticated investors and make astute management decisions.

“Most of all, you need to be prepared for change, which characterizes business today; to make choices that will further your education and experience in order to enhance your value in your profession; and to invest in yourself, broaden your horizons, and acquire skills that are portable so you’ll be able to adapt as these changes occur.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com