Industry strives to attract next generation to agricultural careers

farmEven though there is a shortage of young people considering careers in agriculture, there are signs more students are pursuing ag education.

According to a recent survey conducted by Land O’Lakes, only 3 percent of college graduates and 9 percent of millennials say they would consider careers in agriculture. That shortage of future agricultural leaders is troubling, as there are 20,000 ag-related jobs that go unfilled each year.

As the U.S. farming population shrinks, farming is poised for a massive generational shift that raises serious concerns about food production. More than one-third of American farmers are 65 or older, and two-thirds are at least 55.

It’s clear that there are career opportunities within the agriculture industry, but the challenge is getting young people to consider those careers.

The Worlds of Work Expo, held in October 2015 in Winchester, did just that. County Farm Bureaus from Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties sponsored a booth that showcased careers in agriculture for participating seventh graders.

“During Worlds of Work, students had the opportunity to see and experience some of the skills needed for careers in agriculture and other fields,” said Dana Fisher, a district field services director for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

About 2,800 students visited the agriculture booth.

“The Farm Bureau booth focused on changes in agriculture over the past 100 years. In showing students the technology used many years ago, compared to what we use today, we expressed the need for people who are problem solvers and can creatively help agriculture continue to grow,” Fisher said. “We will always need producers, but with shrinking acreage and a growing population, those producers need new technology and advancements to help feed a growing world.”

While the Land O’Lakes study reveals problems in terms of attracting young people to enter the industry, it also reports encouraging signs of renewed interest in ag careers.

Enrollment in college and university agricultural programs increased from about 120,000 in 2004 to more than 137,000 in 2012, and it continues to grow. Between 1970 and 2014, the number of bachelor’s degrees in agriculture and natural resources tripled, and the number of master’s degrees grew by 250 percent.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts a need for nearly 58,000 college graduates in agriculture and food programs for each of the next several years.

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