At this time of year our thoughts often turn to college commencement ceremonies and the job prospects for newly minted graduates.
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports that the Class of 2015 has a better chance than any class in recent years of finding employment, as listings for jobs that require at least a bachelor’s degree are up 10 percent over last year. That’s at least a little good news for recent grads who, diploma in hand, are now out in the world.
But where are these jobs? Ask anyone who four years ago chose to major in any number of ag and natural resource fields.
Last week the Department of Agriculture released a study that predicts there will be 58,000 job openings in the U.S. annually through 2020 in food, agriculture, natural resources and environmental fields — and not nearly enough college graduates to fill them. By the USDA’s estimate, only 35,000 grads will be available each year.
Demand is particularly strong for students with experience in math, engineering, science or technology.
It’s already a seller’s market, according to officials at ag schools throughout the West.
Officials at Washington State University say many of their grads this spring had multiple job offers. At Oregon State University, job placement has been particularly strong for graduates with crop and soil science, horticulture and animal and rangeland science degrees. Ag, food, renewable natural resources and environmental degrees are hot at the University of Idaho.
Agriculture is an industry ever more dependent on improved technology — new seed varieties, mechanized harvesters, advanced irrigation equipment, sophisticated sensors, etc. — to meet demanding climate and labor challenges.
Agriculture — literally a home-grown industry — provides huge opportunities for talented young people looking for challenging, rewarding careers in a vital, robust sector of the economy. For every farmer and rancher in the field there is a need for many more engineers, manufacturers, processors, marketers and other support personnel.
Officials in Idaho recently talked about creating a “Silicon Valley of Agriculture,” concentrating research and technology along the Snake River. Other states have considered similar ideas. It makes sense for states with large ag sectors to figure out ways to grow local economies by building on an already viable resource.
Rural America has long suffered from out migration. Young people head to college and don’t come back because there aren’t enough opportunities at home. Encouraging these students to pursue agriculture careers and preparing them to take these unfilled jobs could help turn back the tide.