Opportunities for Bright Young Minds

By Agvocate Nick Peterson

Most of us cannot help it.  If you find yourself perusing through all of the Yahoo news stories every other day as they pop up on your home page, you are not alone.  While I do not rely on Yahoo to base my life decisions on, I do use it to brush up on current events that I might be missing out on. I also use Yahoo to find weird or interesting stories that entertain me.  Perhaps it is common among the younger generations, but I assume that on some level, the authors of these short current event stories have at least a shred of credibility. 

The issue that I currently have and am bringing up yet once again is a story that came to my attention last spring on “useless” college majors. This caught my attention because the article listed agriculture as one of the five most useless degrees.

http://education.yahoo.net/articles/most_useless_degrees.htm?kid=1KWNU

Many people in the agricultural industry most likely have heard or were involved with the backlash that already erupted from this article.  I know my Facebook page, in which I am connected to many agricultural majors and enthusiasts, pretty much exploded.  The reason agricultural enthusiasts were upset (in addition to the damage to our pride) was due to this study misusing statistics to prove a point that is inaccurate. This statistic could potentially drive bright young students away from seeking a degree in an agricultural profession. 

The best defense is a good offense. 

I recently spoke with a professor of mine at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Vernon Cardwell.  We spoke about the current state of the agricultural field and its demand for Bachelor of Science majors.    According to the conversations he has had with industry professionals, as well as the attention that companies in the industry have directed at us undergraduate students, the demand for Bachelor of Science graduates is almost twice the supply.  As a junior pursuing my Applied Plant Science degree at the University of Minnesota, this information makes me feel pretty good about my future. 

Dr. Cardwell also mentioned that the majority of this push by the industry for Bachelor of Science graduates comes from a need for more knowledgeable agronomists.  Seed companies, such as Monsanto and Pioneer, have realized that the seed market depends on more than just the bag of seed.  The ability of a seed representative to place each bag of seed in the field or each soil type that will garner the highest yields is a must.  Therein lies the need for more qualified agronomists to either place that seed or train the seed representative who will. 

Winfield’s Answer Plots are an example of an attempt by seed companies to engage with growers on a more knowledgeable, cutting edge level.  By looking at current field issues and ways to correct or prevent them in the future, they are selling agronomic advice in addition to the traditional product sales.  As evidenced by the success that programs such as these Answer Plots have brought to their companies, this is a valuable business tool.  Since this area is only expanding, it will mean more jobs for agronomists. 

The industry of plant breeding relies heavily on the ever evolving molecular and genetic lab processes to produce the high yielding hybrids and varieties we see planted today.  Dollars invested in research and development by seed companies certainly are not dwindling with the high corn and soybean prices.  These companies are looking for graduates with lab experience to fuel their research.  For example, Pioneer just opened a $40 million plant genetics research facility that will create 400 new jobs.

http://farmindustrynews.com/seed/dupont-opens-40-million-agriculture-research-facility

This is an opportunity for graduates who may not even have an interest in the agronomic field, but rather enjoy lab and molecular level work. 

One part of the agricultural industry that is under-appreciated when comparing ag majors to others majors is the availability and profitability of internships.  First, in many other majors or professions, internships might not even be paid.  These are invaluable opportunities for undergraduates to both help pay for schooling as well as get real world, on the job experience.  Second, internships often lead to full time positions following graduation. Third, the wide availability of internships to undergraduate students is something that I feel few other professions can offer.  Whether it is through fall internship fairs on campus, direct searches, or virtual job agents through programs such as GoldPass at the U of M (through which a rough estimate of forty internships were posted and sent to my email inbox this fall), agriculture is one industry that does not fail to give prospective employees hands on work experience. 

I realize that it may be difficult for graduates to start a farming business on their own without a personal or family connection to a farm due to the high land prices and capital investment. However, this is not where the bulk of agricultural jobs are located.  The agronomist positions, plant breeding, and lab positions are where the real demand for agricultural jobs are located; these areas are booming right now.  In my Applied Plant Science major at the University of Minnesota, the students boast close to a one hundred percent placement rate following graduation.  This is why I don’t see myself as concerned about my future as other students in other majors at this university.

It is time for the younger generation to realize all the opportunities we have in agriculture. Misused statistics that pop up on laptops should not deter students from considering studying this industry.  The growth of the agricultural field is spurring our food production. Making the decision to pursue a career in agriculture is one that I have never looked back on throughout my collegiate career and I know that I will not regret it in the future.

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