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Careers in Agriculture

From its early beginning, America's roots have been in agriculture, with farmers playing a major role in the country's history and progress. In fact, 16 U.S. presidents had backgrounds in agriculture, including all four of those depicted on Mount Rushmore: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Four of the last six presidents also had roots in farming or ranching: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Today agriculture continues to be a "growing" industry, encompassing agribusiness and food science careers. While the number of family farmers has declined, more than 22 million Americans are now working in a total of 200 ag-related careers, according to the Agriculture Council of America (agday.org).

Ag careers of the future
A study conducted by Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, "Between 2015 and 2020, we expect to see 57,900 average annual openings for graduates with bachelor's or higher degrees" in the areas of agriculture, food, renewable natural resources and the environment.

According to the study, the jobs in highest demand are plant scientists, food scientists, sustainable biomaterials specialists, water-resources scientists, water-resources engineers, precision agriculture specialists and farm-animal veterinarians.

By percentage, the employment opportunities are:

46% in ag management and business
27% in science and engineering
15% in food and biomaterials production
12% in education, communication and governmental services

City kids also seek ag careers
"Whether they grow up on a farm or in the city, many youths today are drawn to ag careers because they're aware of the FutureFood 2050 initiative and are interested in feeding the world through science and technology," explains Russ Weathers, CEO of Agriculture Future of America (AFA). "Many of the ag careers today are in STEM areas [science, technology, engineering and math]," he added.

AFA identifies, encourages and supports "outstanding college men and women preparing for careers in the agriculture and food industry" through scholarships, internships and training programs.

Preparing youths for jobs in agriculture
Traditional organizations can also help prepare young people for ag-related careers:

  • National FFA Organization (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) offers career development events in ag communications, dairy cattle management, farm business management, meat and poultry evaluation, and food science and technology. Grants and scholarships are also available.
  • 4-H operates in every county in the U.S., offering programs that include agri-science, veterinary science and aqua-culture, a method of raising vegetables and seafood.

Colleges of Agriculture at land-grant universities are one of the best places to obtain required degrees for today's high-tech ag careers. All 50 states have at least one land-grant university, established through the Morrill Act in the 19th century to teach agriculture and mechanical arts as well as to provide a well-rounded liberal arts education.

Common study areas include agricultural economics, farm management, plant breeding, agronomy, animal sciences, entomology, food science, horticulture, ag education and journalism.

Teachable Moments

This fall, enjoy a family outing at a pumpkin patch or farm that accepts visitors and your kids can have fun learning about where their food comes from. Other opportunities during the year include going on actual "field" trips with their school or youth group, and attending livestock exhibitions and county or state fairs.

Families living in or visiting the Kansas City area can tour the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas, featuring exhibits illustrating the history and future of agriculture. "Kids delight in seeing the connection between their food and the real people who produce it," says Dawn Gabel, operations and development director.