From Stanford to Michigan State to The University of Maine undergraduates have decided agriculture and the food industry are industries to invest in for the future. Looking at supply and demand as a way to gauge employment opportunities, students are seeing that “Demand for skilled workers in the industry [ag related careers] shows no signs of letting up, in part because some predict agriculture productivity will have to increase 70% by 2050 to feed the world’s growing population.” In these trying economic times, students have paid close attention to the economic realities and need for ag- and food-related positions. For instance, at Ohio State, “About 92 percent of OSU’s ag grads also find a job or enroll in graduate school within six months, a number that hasn’t dropped since the economy soured five years ago.”
Yet, it is not only the green to be made in ag and food industry careers and the promise of gainful employment that has drawn in students. Food safety, local and sustainable agriculture, fighting obesity, and even the development of biofuels are some of the interest areas students are citing for enrolling in agricultural and food-related paths of study. They see careers in the field as positions from which to affect change and development locally, nationally, and globally.
Gregory Weidemann, the dean of the agricultural college at Connecticut, states: “The skills taught in ag programs also tend to offer a clear career path once students earn a diploma.” The idea of a talent pool developing from these programs is generally welcomed by most in the agricultural and food industries, however some concerns remain.
One case of concern comes in the future of food safety. In Food Safety News, Paul L. Knechtges, writes that at least in regards to food safety, a part of many “agricultural” programs now, some further development and discussion is needed: “Along with the issues of workforce enumeration, career paths and salaries, we must also establish minimum educational standards for entry to the food safety profession.” This could include “A minimum set of uniform educational requirements should be established for students entering the food safety profession (as opposed to food safety technicians).”
As witnessed above, one of the challenges/pluses of taking on the food chain in the 21st Century is that a wide range of careers and opportunities often fall under the label of “agriculture” in today’s universities. From food safety to hydroponics students have a wide array of choices to make and potential careers to pursue. A challenge, amongst all of this growth, is to have clear pathways reinforced that will allow students to connect their educations to the realities of an ever-changing food supply, and to meet the needs of those concerns, like Knechtges’s, that are out there. However these pathways continue to develop in an ever-changing market, it might be worth it to pay attention, as these trained new minds will be the future of the agricultural and food industries.