Finding a Career Field

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Ag careers

Employment in the field of agriculture most often means not working in a cornfield.

Take, for instance, the agribusiness professionals who visited our farm’s shop and office in recent months: two farm equipment salesmen, three insurance experts, a specialty seed representative, the local FS fuel man, a couple of precision agriculture specialists and a combine service technician. And if phone calls and emails count, then ice the cake with our accountant, a grain merchandiser, our credit provider, the local Farm Bureau folks and a government representative.

Some of these guys and gals may farm on the side, too. But the bulk of their bank balances and all their health benefits originate from off-farm agriculture jobs. And quite honestly, our farm would flounder without them.

Agriculture careers include far more than farming. In fact, Illinois’ food and fiber sector employs nearly 1 million people, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Fewer than 10 percent of those actually farm for a living.

Exciting for college graduates, a little math shows a lot of promise for landing that first job for agriculture majors. Last year, Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (again, an agriculture career), announced a report that predicts 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environment fields in the U.S. Another report says only 35,400 college students graduate with agricultural degrees each year. Graduates with the desired educational background fill only about 60 percent of the expected annual openings.

The job options prove as plentiful as corn seed varieties. Careers in agriculture management and business expect the highest demand. STEM takes second (that acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Yet, a healthy demand for agriculture jobs in education, communication, food and biomaterials production, and government services exists, too.

Some of these jobs carry titles like e-commerce managers, marketing agents, ecosystem managers and agricultural science educators. Some represent crop advisors, pest control specialists, and plant or food scientists. Sustainable biomaterials specialists, water resources engineers and veterinarians make the list, too.

My aunt’s last Christmas letter deservingly doted on my three college-age and older cousins and their agricultural careers, or pursuits thereof. These beautiful, hard-working young ladies prove farm girls to the core with a passion for all things agriculture. They also know how to build a fence and tame a tough barn cat. That experience may prove worthwhile in the board room.

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