New Agriculture Grads are Scarce

According to Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture report, close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture, food and natural resource sectors each year for the next five years.

There's not enough grads to fill the American agriculture industry is a problem. The report projects about two open jobs for every qualified graduate. That's left the USDA, private industry and grant universities scrambling to try and bridge the gap.

CSU is Colorado's land grant university, institutions originally established in the 1800s to teach agriculture, science and engineering to eager students. Kevin Pond, head of CSU's department of animal science, says while enrolment in his department is steadily rising, the vast number of vacant jobs in agricultural and food sectors is partly due to perception.

Young people don't think of it as a growing field, or an area with sunny job prospects, even though it's common for animal science graduates to come out with multiple job offers. Students, even at this land grant university, are increasingly urban. Most don't come from a farm background.

Pond says, "The truth is, in animal science, it's 80 percent female, it's 90 percent urban and our new minority is a white male from a rural background. Crazy to think."

Job openings are highly-skilled and a lot of times they're at Fortune 500 companies in marketing, food safety, plant science and veterinary medicine. Pond says, "It's no longer menial labor that's at a low salary, their salaries are going up and up and up because of the scarcity"

"If you have one percent of your population feeding the other 99 percent, if we're relying on that pool to fill our classrooms we're going to be a dying college, " Pond says. Agriculture programs at land grant universities are focusing on science in a bid to stay relevant, even as it takes fewer people to run farms and ranches.

Some of the onus should be placed on private industry, says Krysta Harden, deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food and agribusiness companies need to do a better job wooing students and working with public universities.

It gets even harder when you're attempting to build a diverse company in rural America. That mismatch in values, where big equals bad to the millennial ag job seeker, is part of what's leaving large food companies with vacant jobs. Even as food remains a hot topic and cultural flashpoint.

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