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Ag industry failing to attract young people

Land O' Lakes survey shows only 3% of college graduates would consider a career in agriculture

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor

April 20, 2016

3 Min Read

The fact that production agriculture is not attracting enough young people to return to the farm is not news. That has been a problem for years. But did you know there is a shortage of college graduates to fill careers in ag industry as well?

According to a recent survey by Land O'Lakes, only 3% of college graduates have or would consider a career in agriculture. The shortage of agricultural talent as well as lingering misperceptions about careers in agriculture are of major concern to farm groups, universities and agriculture and food companies as well.

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According to Land O'Lakes, only 9% of millennials surveyed have or would consider a career in agriculture. When compared to other industries, only 6% of respondents indicated they have or would consider a career in agriculture, with healthcare and technology at the highest career interest, each at 21%; followed by education at 20%; marketing and sales; finance; and manufacturing and engineering all at 12%.

The USDA job report echoes these findings. The report reveals that more than 20,000 agriculture jobs go unfilled each year. Despite this fact, the majority of survey respondents – 54% – believe it is difficult or very difficult for recent college graduates to get a job in agriculture.

The world's demand for food will surge by 2050 with a projected 10 billion people requiring a 70% increase in food production. The question is -- who is going to lead the way in finding solutions for this demand and ensure the world's population will be fed?

We need to produce more food in the next 35 years than in the previous 500 years combined. We must focus on attracting the next generation of ag workers to the highly skilled, well-paid career opportunities.

According to the survey, 76% of respondents do not think a career in ag pays well. This misperception is prevalent across the entire country with 71% in the Midwest and South, 82% in the West and 85% in the Northeast.

The one glimmer of hope is that 35% of Millennials believe ag careers pay well, compared to 17% of Baby Boomers and 21% of Gen Xers, significantly more than any other generation. This may be a promising sign of attracting future college students to agriculture.

Modern agriculture has evolved to become one of the most vital and technologically advanced fields there is today. And the career choices are as dynamic as the industry itself ranging from agronomists and soil conservationists to bio-system engineers, ag economists, dairy nutritionists, ag marketers, seed company representatives, AI technicians and ag lenders. There are more than 300 different careers available in agriculture.

If you are a high school student, or the parent of one, don't hesitate to check out the ag schools at University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW-River Falls and UW-Platteville. There are also plenty of exciting and well-paying careers in agriculture available at Wisconsin technical colleges. Call and schedule a campus visit or two and become part of the solution to figuring out how to feed 10 billion people in 2050.

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Fran O’Leary lives in Brandon, Wis., and has been editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2003. Even though O’Leary was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Before becoming editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist, O’Leary worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and a feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003.

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