Back to School: USDA projects bright future for agriculture students

Posted August 27, 2015


The end of summer signals the start of a new school year. And, for students pursuing agricultural and environmental fields at institutions like Kansas State University, a report from USDA and Purdue University projects a future as bright as the summer sun. 

The report, titled Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Agriculture, Renewable Natural Resources, and the Environment, United States, 2015-2020, projected that annual openings in agricultural and environmental fields in the next five years will continue outnumber the number of graduates prepared to take them. According to USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Purdue Univers ity, who prepared the report, these fields will see a 5 percent overall growth with 57,900 annual job openings in the next five years with only an average of 35,400 college graduates with bachelor’s degrees or higher to fill them. 

“There is incredible opportunity for highly-skilled jobs in agriculture,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in the agency’s release. “Those receiving degrees in agricultural fields can expect to have ample career opportunities. Not only will those who study agriculture be likely to get well-paying jobs upon graduation, they will also have the satisfaction of working in a field that addresses some of the world’s most pressing challenges. These jobs will only become more important as we continue to develop solutions to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050.”

NIFA and Purdue projected half of those opportunities will be in management or business, with another 27 percent in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. These fields build upon the foundation of production agriculture, and this report is encouraging news that farmers will have even more help growing more and better crops with less effect on the environment. 

For example, the report projected continued demand for plant science graduates, stating, “They will find many opportunities for plant geneticists, plant pathologists, and insect biologists to develop higher-yielding crops adapted to less-than-optimal growing conditions.” The new student at Throckmorton Hall may one day be the next great wheat breeder.  

The outlook also called for graduates who can assist farmers with utilizing less water, maximizing potential of soil and improving conservation management. Not surprisingly, the report projected growth in the computer programmers and technology experts needed to design and support the precision agriculture tools that farmers and scientists alike can use to measure and track inputs, nutrients and yields. 

Finally, the report recognized that as consumers continue to demand nutritious and safe food, demand will stay strong for dieticians and nutritionists as well as food scientists and technologists. 

Despite current low crop prices, the future of agriculture appears bright. And today’s students have seemingly unlimited opportunities to create exciting careers in agriculture – on and off the farm.

By Julia Debes