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Career Opportunities In Agriculture

Written by: Kent Thiesse

Recently, an article posted on the Yahoo Education page on www.yahoo.com created quite a stir in agriculture circles. The article listed the “college majors that are useless”, based on a 2012 study. Interestingly, the article listed “Agriculture” as the number #1 “useless degree” in the U.S.. According to the study, there will be 5 percent less jobs available in “Agriculture” in the 10-year period from 2008-2018, as compared to the previous 10-year period. The article described “Agriculture” coursework as crops, plant diseases, animal husbandry, and basic veterinary science, which appears to be a quite limited perspective of agriculture-related career opportunities.

In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated that that the annual number of job openings requiring a college degree with expertise in agriculture, food systems, renewable energy, and environment will increase by 5 percent from 2010-2015, as compared to 2005-2010. USDA projects that over 54,000 college graduates will be needed each year to meet this job demand from 2010-2015, with 74 percent of these jobs being in business and science type of occupations. USDA estimates that only about 49,000 qualified graduates will be available each year to meet this growing job demand, with about 29,000 of those graduates coming Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (AFNR) programs at colleges and universities, and the balance from other college majors.

How can these two projections be so completely opposite of each other ? Part of the explanation, is probably in “definition”. The study referenced in the Yahoo Education article appears to take a very narrow focus on the definition of “Agriculture” and the types of career opportunities associated with a college degree in an agriculture-related field. By comparison, USDA takes a much broader approach to the agriculture industry, as it relates to food, fiber, renewable energy, and associated careers.

Too often, we correlate “agriculture education” as being coursework to prepare young people for farming, or production agriculture, rather than considering the vast array of career opportunities and job openings that exist in AFNR. There are going to be many future career opportunities for our students in food safety and quality, renewable energy, environmental issues, business management, and other areas. Enhancing AFNR programs and course offerings in our colleges and universities is certainly one strategy to help prepare our students for these future opportunities.

AgCareers.com is a national web site devoted to AFNR job postings, and to assist students pursuing AFNR careers. According to a survey they conducted in 2010, there were 30 percent more job openings in AFNR type-positions, as compared to a year earlier. 65 percent of those jobs required a bachelors degree, 11 percent required a masters degree or higher, and the balance required lesser degrees. The survey found that the most positions requiring a bachelor’s degree had a starting salary of $40,000-$50,000 per year, plus health care coverage and retirement plans, with some offering incentive bonuses.

Some of the largest food and agricultural companies in the world are based out of Minnesota, and have many career opportunities available to college graduates. Of course, there are also many job opportunities available in regional centers and local communities throughout Minnesota that would prefer some AFNR training and coursework for available positions. Some of these job openings require a 4-year degree, but others will accept a 2-year degree or less, with the proper coursework and training. Based of the USDA definition of “Agriculture”, there are ample future career opportunities available to young people pursuing a career in the food, fiber, or renewable energy industry.