With the current climate of low commodity prices, falling farm income, and escalating input costs across the farming and ranching industry, it seems almost counterintuitive to consider an opportunity for a profitable career in agriculture.
But USDA officials are pointing to a recent study by Purdue economists that indicates now may be the perfect time for young men and women to consider working toward an agriculture-related degree that could lead to a bright future in a fast-growing industry.
In fact, according to a recent employment outlook by Purdue and USDA, in the next five years nearly 58,000 jobs involving food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment will open across the United States annually, and many of those jobs won’t find enough graduates to fill the openings.
According to a USDA survey, graduates with degrees in the agriculture industry are expected to fill most of these jobs openings. Employers are expected to fill the remaining jobs with graduates of other areas such as biology or business administration.
A Purdue study reached the same conclusion, indicating graduates with degrees in the agriculture industry are expected to fill just about 60 percent of jobs openings within the industry, and employers are expected to fill the remaining jobs with graduates of other areas such as biology or business administration.
Matthew Pace, a recent graduate who majored in agricultural and applied economics, agrees the future is indeed rich with opportunity in the agriculture sector and agriculture-related industries.
"I became more aware in my college years that the agriculture industry as a whole simply isn’t producing the number of graduates that we need to fill the jobs that need to be filled in the years ahead," he reported to authors of the employment outlook survey.
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Madeline Rentz, a sophomore from Baxley studying agricultural communication, agrees.
"So many people don’t live in areas where there’s access to agriculture businesses and farms. I just think that they don’t visibly see that in everyday life, so they’re just not aware of how much is around us in Georgia," she says, and is she is supported by University of Georgia students who responded to the same question on the survey.
Pace thinks the ag industry should focus more on educating the general public as to how it relates to everyday life, and he says he also believes graduates in agricultural-related majors are looking to break the stereotypes of the industry by demonstrating the variety of opportunities available.
"Over the years agriculture-related jobs, because of the lack of understanding, have received a negative stigma," Pace added. "It’s almost the idea of ‘I don’t want to be an ag major because I don’t want to be in that stereotype.’ That stereotype is a very negative one that quite frankly isn’t true because of the diversity within the industry."
USDA officials say the survey and university study indicate that with a growing population, college graduates with expertise in agriculture-related areas are essential to U.S. food security, sustainable energy and environmental quality. They point out that by 2050 there will be more people to feed as the population grows, and a sustainable food supply and quality food will be the backbone of agriculture and the support system that will be needed to feed the world.
Also, as the demand on the industry increases, job opportunities in the agriculture industry grow, and so does the diversity in career opportunities within the industry. The study says in the future, college graduates with expertise in agriculture-related areas are essential to U.S. food security, sustainable energy and environmental quality, and they will be in great demand.
The Purdue study indicated almost half of the opportunities in agriculture will be in management and business. Another 27 percent will be in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Finally, 15 percent will be in foods and biomaterial production and 12 percent will be in education, communication and governmental services.
"As a whole, it’s really promising for an ag major right now," Pace said. "I feel really good about the future of the agriculture industry. I think one of the things that is going to help propel the success of the agriculture industry is a foundation of knowledge and education for the general public."
Pace said he was able to go to Washington D.C. through the Congressional Agricultural Fellowship Program where he was able to experience the industry first hand.
"The agriculture industry is very well known for offering really good paid summer internships for ag majors, and I really think that allows a lot of students to get engaged in it and to learn a lot about the opportunities that exist across the industry as a whole," Pace said.
With the future full of opportunities for employment, he says students studying agriculture have a great deal to look forward to as they pursue their interests.