USDA: Science-based ag grads will be in demand


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A USDA report paints a rosy employment picture for college graduates in agricultural sciences and natural resources over the next five years.
And that dovetails with evolving educational offerings at the nation’s land-grant colleges of agriculture, life sciences and natural resources, according to an administrator in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
Vacancies. The USDA report estimates that between 2005 and 2010, more than 52,000 job openings will be available each year for graduates in food, agriculture and natural resources degree programs.
But U.S. universities will turn out only about 49,300 graduates annually to fill those jobs.
About 32,000 of those graduates will earn agricultural science or natural resources degrees, while about 17,000 will come from allied educational programs, such as biological sciences, engineering and business.
Driving trends. “Several societal trends are driving the job market in these fields,” says J. Marcos Fernandez, associate dean for undergraduate education.
“Among them are consumer preferences for safe, healthy and convenient foods; desires for an economically and environmentally sustainable food system; and concerns for biosecurity and protecting our food and fiber system from agroterrorism, invasive species and diseases.”
Forecast. The report forecasts the greatest number of unfilled job openings in management and business occupations, such as technical sales representative, food broker, forest product salesperson, market analyst, landscape manager and international business specialist.
Strong opportunities also will exist in scientific and engineering fields such as precision agriculture technology, forest science, veterinary medicine, biomaterials engineering, food quality assurance, nanotechnology, nutraceuticals development and environmental science.
Owe it to ag. “The fact is, we’re on the cutting edge of many technologies,” says Fernandez.
“Our programs are science-based, but one of the strengths of the land-grant system is that we are able to translate that research and apply it to real problems in the field.
“Some of the scientific and technical advances that take place in medical and biological fields are led by agricultural scientists, and many people aren’t aware of that.
Plenty of opportunity. The key to attracting students to fields with a shortfall of graduates, Fernandez explains, is to communicate to young people the diverse and plentiful career opportunities available in food, agriculture and natural resources.
“We need the best and the brightest to address some of the challenges our society faces in the coming years and decades,” he says.
“Students don’t always picture themselves fitting into these fields. We need to do a better job of explaining the wide variety of opportunities and of helping them understand that they can make an immediate contribution in their chosen career, whether it’s biological, social, economic, educational or renewable natural resources.”


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