Much like drought-ridden farmers desire soaking rains, the nation’s job market is demanding more agriculture-related college graduates.
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) said college graduates aren’t keeping pace with the trend.
“Agriculture-related jobs are in high demand, from farmers and university faculty to private research and development,” said Paul Pinyan, Alabama Farmers Federation executive director. “Land-grant institutions are in a prime spot to capitalize on this opportunity to bring in skilled students who are seeking hands-on training.”
An estimated 57,900 jobs in agriculture, food, natural resources and environmental fields are available annually. However, colleges of agriculture award 35,400 bachelor’s degrees annually, only 61 percent of graduates needed, according the NIFA report.
The Auburn University Agriculture Alumni Association’s Drew Ratterman said he sees firsthand benefits in hiring agriculture graduates through his position as a Dow AgroSciences workforce leader.
“We put a premium on agriculture degrees,” said Ratterman, a 1996 agricultural economics alumnus and alumni association board member. “We could hire someone with a non-agriculture degree, but the training time is twice as long. Therefore, we seek agriculture graduates at a higher rate.”
Ratterman said agriculture’s scientific foundation and bright career opportunities were attractive during his time at Auburn and remain so today.
“I’ve seen agriculture’s value throughout my career,” said Ratterman, an 18-year Dow employee who lives in Indianapolis. “There’s no doubt agriculture is a highly technological science critical to meeting the needs of a growing world.”
Caleb Hicks transferred to Auburn from Troy University this year with the sole purpose of pursuing an agricultural communications degree.
“The more time I spend around agriculture, the more I realize agriculture is an extremely important – if not the most important – global industry,” said Hicks, a sophomore from Montgomery County. “Communicating the truth about agriculture is my calling.”
The NIFA report shows women comprise more than half of agriculture-related graduates. Favorable employment opportunities are expected for the next five years, even as enrollment in agricultural programs increases and the job market becomes more competitive.
Pursuing a degree in agriculture pays off – literally.
Careers in agriculture and natural resources are high paying, with average starting salaries of $51,220, according to a recent USA Today report.
The Federation invests in agriculture’s future through scholarships for students in agriculture, forestry, natural resources and related programs. Hicks is among those scholarship recipients. In 2015, 140 students will receive scholarship assistance from the Alabama Farmers Agriculture Foundation or a county Farmers Federation.