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Top 5 ag college majors in demand

Universities across the Midwest were surveyed to determine which majors had the best graduation and job placement rates.

Elizabeth Hodges, Staff Writer

July 11, 2024

4 Min Read
a student in cap and gown standing next to animal science complex
ON THE PATH: College students in agriculture are not only trying to pick their majors, but they also want to choose an academic and career path that will provide a good job after graduation. We’ve come up with a list of some of the top ag majors in demand. Curt Arens

The school year is approaching, and this might cause college students to start to panic. Picking out a college major is a big decision with a big question: What major will get me a job?

Colleges across the Midwest — including the University of Minnesota, South Dakota State University, North Dakota State University, the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln — were surveyed to see which majors had the best graduation and job placement rates.

These schools are located in ag country and can provide valuable experiences for students.

“What makes these majors so hirable is the fact they are applied and hands-on. Also, at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, 25 of the Fortune 1,000 companies are located here in Minnesota, many of which are in the agricultural industry,” says Ben Hansen, associate director for employer relations at the University of Minnesota. “We are fortunate to have both highly-skilled students and a strong demand for talent from our employer partners.”

Top 5 ag majors

If you are a college student who does not know what major to pick, or know of a college student who wants to make an impact in the agriculture industry, these five majors have been found to be in demand:

1. Animal science/veterinary science. It might be a misconception that if a student is an animal science major, they are going to be a veterinarian. That is not always the case. Careers within the animal science industry are many, but some examples provided by UNL include nutritionist, meat scientist, livestock production, Extension educator, livestock geneticist and many more.

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2. Ag business and economics. At Mizzou, there was an impressive number — 165 students — enrolled in agribusiness management, with an 87.5% graduation rate and 100% career success rate, according to Bryan Garton, senior associate dean and director of academic programs. This major shows up on the top 5 majors list at all the schools surveyed. So, whether a student is looking to be a commodity merchandiser, credit analyst, loan officer, sales manager or many other career options, they are in good company.

3. Crop sciences. Studying plants might be called different names, depending on where students go to school. But whether it is called crop production at NDSU, agronomy and crop sciences at SDSU, plant sciences at Mizzou or plant science at Minnesota, the need for plant specialists is crucial to the industry. “We have future food scientists, seed analysts and plant pathologists addressing the global food challenge,” Hansen says.

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4. General agriculture. If a student is looking to keep their options open and explore all areas of agriculture, general agriculture might be the major to pursue. Classes a student might take with this major include agricultural sales, plant science, farm management, environmental science and agricultural communications.

5. Biochemistry. While biochemistry might not come first to mind when thinking about agriculture, it is in many agriculture and natural resources programs across the Midwest. Different careers that are pursued with this major are science writer, plant research biologist, research lab technician, pharmaceutical research, medical school, veterinary school and many more.

Evolving industry

The agricultural industry changes over time, and that is also reflected with the college majors that are provided at the university level. Advancing the industry is at the forefront of these agriculturally driven universities.

“With the climate crisis and a growing global population, the need for feeding more people sustainability is of great importance,” Hansen says. “I am not sure what new majors may crop up, but existing majors that can best integrate emerging technology into the curriculum would be well suited for the ongoing advances in agriculture.”

At UNL and many other schools, faculty recognize that there is a drive for more technology within the industry.

“Agriculture is seeing an increase in technology for every area, so majors that deal with systems, technology, data, and how these topics apply to our agriculture and food production systems will grow,” says Sue Ellen Pegg, college relations director at UNL. “Our programs are already incorporating these advances in our courses, so students will be prepared for changes in the job market.”

Choosing the right college to attend is a whole new challenge for incoming students. However, knowing the top majors to gain a job within the industry can help home in on a college and career path. To learn more about the different majors at these universities, check out the course catalogs below:

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About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Hodges

Staff Writer, Farm Progress

Growing up on a third-generation purebred Berkshire hog operation, Elizabeth Hodges of Julian, Neb., credits her farm background as showing her what it takes to be involved in the ag industry. She began her journalism career while in high school, reporting on producer progress for the Midwest Messenger newspaper.

While a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she became a Husker Harvest Days intern at Nebraska Farmer in 2022. The next year, she was hired full time as a staff writer for Farm Progress. She plans to graduate in 2024 with a double major in ag and environmental sciences communications, as well as animal science.

Being on the 2022 Meat Judging team at UNL led her to be on the 2023 Livestock Judging team, where she saw all aspects of the livestock industry. She is also in Block and Bridle and has held different leadership positions within the club.

Hodges’ father, Michael, raises hogs, and her mother, Christy, is an ag education teacher and FFA advisor at Johnson County Central. Hodges is the oldest sibling of four.

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