Food, clothing, and shelter: the three most vital components of human life. Agriculture is the sole system that supports day-to-day living. It is safe to assume that a career in agriculture is a safe bet, but how does the new generation go about pursuing a career in this field? The “traditional” farmer is 57 years old (according to the USDA census) and standing on his front porch with overalls and a pitchfork. A professor at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale has taken some time to provide pointers to college-aged students pursuing a career in agriculture.
Q: How are “traditional” careers in agriculture changing?
A: Like every industry, agriculture is becoming more technologically advanced. We need more computer wizzes and less tractor drivers. It is important to have an idea of technology in every field. For example, it is good to know a little bit about genetics and some about precision agriculture. Agriculture is also becoming more international. Rather than America providing for America, we are competing with Brazil for exports and doing some trading along the way.
Q: What careers are available for students in agriculture?
A: Students that come from a farm have a better chance at getting involved in production agriculture [growing crops and livestock]. While we will always need farmers, the demand for out-of-the-box agriculture [related careers] is increasing. Things like aquaculture [the farming of fish, oysters, etc.] and organics are really popular right now. The niche markets are booming.
Q: How do students without an agriculture background get involved?
A: They meet people. They [students] start out in fashion and live with an agriculture student and by the next semester they have changed their major. Some, however, just become interested in the field and that’s what they decide to do.
Q: How do students with and agriculture backgrounds compare to students without?
A: While they do not differ much, people who grew up on a farm are not open-minded to new ways to accomplish a task. They do things the way dad did them and dad did them the way grandpa did them. It’s not a bad thing, but sometimes it sacrifices efficiency.
Q: What will be a future trend for students pursuing a career in agriculture?
A: Less connection to production, more connection to the food. Suddenly, America seems to be more concerned about the safety of what they consume. It hasn’t ever been not safe, but now they are getting curious about hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified crops. We need more people willing to work with the retail side of the market. Connections with the consumers is becoming more important.
Q: Are there enough young people interested in agricultural careers?
A: Yes, as long as students understand that agriculture is not [limited to] farming. Its food, consumers, the environment, natural resources, and wildlife. It is much broader than what it used to be, and with good reason.
Southern Illinois University