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Taking issue with negative article on ag majors

“Still, if your idea of a good day is getting up with the sun and working till it sets as an agricultural manager, a degree in agriculture might be your calling.” Terence Loose, in an article titled “College Majors That Are Useless.”

Apparently Mr. Loose is one of those fortunate souls who live in cities and don’t have to worry about how they get fed. After all, they have a supermarket just down the road. Why do they need people to major in agriculture?

He also points out that animal science and horticulture are also useless majors. I refrain from saying what’s really on my mind. “Idiot.” Oops, it slipped out.

He also picks on fashion design and theater as bad choices for folks interested in earning degrees and earning livings from what they study. I’m not as irate with either of those two snubs as I am about the three ag-related careers he dissed, but I take exception with those as well. I appreciate well-designed clothes even if I don’t know how to put an ensemble together properly. And I have enjoyed many a pleasant evening at the theater, often stunned by the talent and emotion expressed by someone who has studied and perfected the craft.

A career, whether it’s in agriculture or business or rocket science, should be about more than a paycheck.

I have two degrees in English literature, perhaps not the best option for someone interested in accumulating a fortune by the time he hits 45—I missed that benchmark, by the way. But English literature always interested me. Learning to write—I’m still working on it—was a fascinating, perplexing and sometimes rewarding endeavor. It remains so.

Agriculture, too, is a fascinating, complex, and rewarding career. Each day offers new challenges. Little remains constant. Seasons change; crop conditions change; pests and weather are unpredictable. Markets move—up and down, sometimes sideways, steep drops, dizzying heights—demanding patience, skill and the nerves of a Wild West card sharp.

And some people actually do enjoy getting up at the crack of dawn and working until way past dark, spending the day driving machinery, herding cattle or grubbing in the dirt. They sweat, they skin knuckles, they pull muscles. They feed the rest of us.

Some ag majors end up back on the family farm, getting advanced degrees from their fathers and grandfathers. Some work as farm managers; some stay on at universities, doing research to find better ways of making crops and more efficient systems to take care of livestock.

Some go into industry where they help develop new products—fertilizers, pesticides, equipment—that increase productivity.

I have met very few ag majors who would have chosen differently if given the opportunity to go back and select another major. And I find it more than a bit pretentious for someone who apparently has little regard for the people who make it possible for him to sit at a computer and rail at the injustices of the world—real or imagined—because he doesn’t have to spend his day behind a plow producing his own food to denigrate a young man’s or a young woman’s choice of a major.

If he doesn’t think agriculture or animal science or horticulture is a good choice, then he shouldn’t choose that for himself and he might want to steer his children toward something else. But it works for a lot of folks. And he’s fortunate that it works for them and that they work at those little-appreciated jobs so he doesn’t have to.

People should study what they’re good at and earn a living at what they’re passionate about. I’ve been fortunate to do that, and I know a lot of ag majors who have a lot of pride in those framed sheepskins.

Terrence, loosen up!

TAGS: Management
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