Young agriculture professionals needed to fill bounty of jobs

newspaperThere is an abundance of job opportunities in the food and agriculture fields and a national shortage of young professionals to fill them.

That is the conclusion of a recent study sponsored by the stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Food & Ag Council.

The report on study findings includes a detailed analysis of workforce trends in six agriculture fields: agricultural business and management; agriculture mechanization and engineering; animal sciences; plant and soil science; food science and technology; and other life sciences. Findings indicate that between January and August nearly 34,000 people were hired each month. Twenty-five percent of workers in the highlighted fields are 55 or older, which means job opportunities will grow through workforce attrition.

The report analysis projects a 4.9 percent growth in employment opportunities in the next five years, adding 33,100 new jobs in advanced agriculture fields.

The report offers recommendations for guiding stem professionals to food and ag careers and advancing stem education and career development in relevant areas of agriculture. In essence, it states that there is a need to transfer knowledge from a retiring generation to their successors. And, unlike previous generations, some of those successors will have no previous connection to agriculture.

“There is a huge field of ag professionals not getting their hands in the dirt,” said Spencer Neale, director of commodity marketing for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “The business of feeding the world is so complex, and there are many ag careers related to policy, the environment, sustainability and technology. The problem is the gap in the number of people to fill those jobs.”

Neale noted that U.S. land-grant universities are typically at the forefront of preparing ag graduates for the workforce. “Organizations like Farm Bureau Federation also have an important role to play in partnering with agencies and universities to meet these growing needs,” he said.

The report noted that the next generation of ag professionals is both tech-savvy and community-minded. “As agriculture becomes increasingly global and information-based, those attributes can surely make a difference,” Neale said.