Repeat after me: Agriculture as a career is hot, hot, hot

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Just in time for high school graduations, we bring you this “what do I want to do with the rest of my life” message. (Spoiler alert: Work in agriculture)

If you listen to Las Vegas-based career expert Denise Nicole Cook, jobs in agriculture are doomed. If you listen to experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University, it’s not a bad time to be graduating from college with a degree in agriculture. Not bad at all.

Hmm, Las Vegas or West Lafayette, Indiana — I’m pretty sure I know which location has a better grip on what’s going on in the ag job market.

The USDA/Purdue report, Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Agriculture, Renewable Natural Resources, and the Environment, United States, 2015-2020, which just came out May 11, forecasts some 60,000 high-skilled agriculture job openings annually — and there’s an average of only 35,400 new U.S. ag grads. You do the math.

The jobs, however, are not necessarily back on the farm. In fact, only 15 percent of the expected openings between 2015 and 2020 will be on the production side of things.

According to the team, almost half of the expected annual job openings will be in management or business, i.e. the lenders, the financial advisers, the technical geeks, the marketers, the salesmen, and the human resource specialists of the world.

Another 27 percent of job openings will be in ag or food science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Not only are those openings in traditional ag fields like agronomy, but in growing fields of food safety, new products, nutrition (human and animal) and, no surprise here, water (like hydrologists, watershed scientists and civil engineers).

Twelve percent of the openings will be in education, communication and government. (Incidentally, I’ve heard from people in both Ohio and Pennsylvania involved with hiring new vo-ag teachers lately who say there is a huge need for good ag science teachers these days.)

The online job board AgCareers.com had 12,500 more jobs posted in the ag, food, natural resources and biotechnology fields in 2013 than in 2012 (a total of more than 56,000 openings). They’ve also had an 82 percent increase in the number of internship opportunities advertised.

AgCareers.com also reports the average starting salary for a new graduate with a four-year degree in ag is $41,000.

Like their counterparts from ag schools nationwide, graduates of Ohio State’s ag college (more accurately the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, which really does give a truer picture of the breadth of majors, careers and opportunities) are in demand. More than 90 percent are employed in their fields six months after graduation (and more than 70 percent choose to stay in Ohio).

Doesn’t sound like a doomed industry to me. It sounds like an industry that can tackle the global issues of the environment and hunger. It sounds like an industry that develops rewards intellect as well as practical skills and common sense.

It sounds like an industry that entices entrepreneurs and foodies and community/rural development specialists. It sounds like sustainability, diversity and opportunity.

The report cautions, however, that like all career choices, graduates “who are mobile and have work experience will have more opportunity.” Meaning, if you’re not tied to a specific location or state, you’ll have more employment options.

Agriculture isn’t just drawing “farm kids” these days, it’s a bona fide career choice of many urban, suburban and nonfarm students. And we need them all.

The future of agriculture needs the brightest and the best young minds. Instead of pushing our youth to get off the farm, perhaps we should be encouraging them to explore all that agriculture has to offer.

It’s more than “farming.”

 

By Susan Crowell

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