Why would a teenager today look to the ag industry for a future?

Why would a teenager today look to the ag industry for a future?

With conviction, the thirteen-year-old boy said he was going to be a plant breeder or an agriculture teacher or do something with plant diseases when he got older – or maybe even do all three. Good choices. He’s got a good future in his future, according to a recent report.

The boy, I’m happy to say, is my nephew. He made his statement about his preferred long-term employment not long ago. A report out this month from USDA says the skills and know-how he wants to develop are in big demand – at least over the next five years.

The report “Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Agriculture, Renewable Natural Resources, and the Environment -- United States, 2015-2020,” was pulled together by USDA and Purdue University. It estimates the U.S. will have 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environment fields over the next five years.

U.S. colleges and universities crank out an average of 35,400 new graduates each year with a bachelor's degree or higher in agriculture-related fields. That’s 22,500 graduates short of what’s need to fill the jobs available annually. That is pretty good employment odds for ag-leaning graduates.

The report projects almost half of the job opportunities will be in management and business; another 27 percent will be in science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas. Jobs in food and biomaterials production will make up 15 percent of the jobs; and 12 percent of the openings will be in education, communication and government services related to agriculture.

The report also says women now make up more than half of the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environment higher education graduates in the U.S.

But for how long will the demand last for highly trained agricultural professionals? That’s the concern. The report says enrollment in agricultural programs is increasing and the job market will become somewhat more competitive after 2020.

Still, the need for highly trained agriculture employees will not fade. Few other industries in the last two decades have developed and implemented more groundbreaking technologies and ideas than the U.S. agriculture industry. I don’t see that changing in the future. We still need plenty more ground broken to keep pace with global food demand, conservation compliance and environmental changes and regulations and to help keep farms profitable well into the future.

My nephew would like to be a farmer, and his granddaddy is a good one. But there is no family land or capital available to my nephew to give him a good leg up on being a farmer. He is on track, though, to have a good job in agriculture. He is already an officer in FFA and active in 4-H programs and taking ag classes.

A decade from now I’d like to report my nephew was successful in reaching his career dreams and is happily on his way to making a positive impact on the agriculture industry, and report he has a smoking-hot girlfriend/fiancé (he’d want that to be part of the story, too).

A decade from now I’d also like to report on what will at the time be a decade-long, unprecedented run of good commodity prices, or peanuts selling for more than $700 per ton, corn selling for more than $6 a bushel and cotton price not falling below 90 cents per pound for ten straight years. We’ll see. My nephew better keep his grades up for a chance of either one of these fantasies to become a reality.

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