In the last five years, researchers projected nearly 58,000 openings every year for college graduates in agriculture, food, renewable natural resources, and the environment. But it was speculated that not enough grads would be available to fill those openings, according to a report by Purdue University in Indiana and the US Department of Agriculture.

Crop and resource production involves managing the land, but many of the openings have been far from plow-to-earth work. In fact, 46 percent of the projected growth was in management and business. Another 27 percent of the new openings were in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math. A further 15 percent centered on green fields like sustainable food and biomaterials production. And the remaining 12 percent of openings were in education, communication, and governmental services.

That means agriculture and natural resources offer something for everyone, and earning a degree opens additional doors. “Expect the strongest job market for plant scientists, food scientists, sustainable biomaterials specialists, water resources scientists and engineers, precision agriculture specialists, and farm-animal veterinarians,” the report states.

Projected employment through 2028 includes thousands of jobs for agricultural and food scientists, animal scientists, food scientists and technologists, and soil and plant scientists. The number of available jobs in these fields is expected to grow by 7 percent through 2028, faster than the average for other occupations.

The variety of this job list in itself reflects the increasing complexity of the food and energy systems. Agriculture and natural resources in the United States are very big business, serving enormous domestic and international markets and utilizing ever-developing logistical, commercial, and technological innovations.

Combine technological changes with environmental challenges like drought and rising temperatures, and the retirement of the Baby Boom generation, and the demand for a younger, highly skilled workforce is clear.

Graduates of specialized programs “not only are expected to provide answers and leadership to meet these growing challenges in the United States,” the report’s authors note, “but they also must exert global leadership in providing sustainable food systems, adequate water resources, and renewable energy in a world of population growth and climate change.”

Colleges haven’t kept up with demand, though, since they currently graduate only 35,400 trained in such fields each year. That means many new openings will be left unfilled, or filled by those lacking the necessary expertise.

Taking care of business

Between 2015 and 2020, almost half of annual openings in food and environment jobs – 26,700 a year – were in management and business.

Changes in consumer choices for millions of Americans, driven by more health-conscious diets, will contribute to openings in marketing, purchasing, and logistics jobs. E-commerce in every industry is increasing the need for graduates with skills in online marketing, social media, and information technology.

In addition, care of the environment requires business professionals, particularly in renewable wood and biomaterials businesses, which are tied to the construction industry.

Agribusiness Technology at COA and NC State

COA’s Agribusiness Technology program, implemented in 2018, has these future job needs in mind. The degree combines agriculture business training with technology and is specific enough to start students on a career in agriculture, but broad enough to pursue a number of directions in that field of study. The Agribusiness Technology degree is comprised of coursework on the business side, including agricultural accounting, economics, law and finance, and marketing, but also encompasses hands-on courses such as animal science, plant science, soil science and sustainable agriculture.

COA and North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (NCSU CALS) partnered together on the creation of the Agribusiness Technology program. COA students in the program who are interested in transferring to NC State can benefit from the CALS PackTrac program, an advising model that provides a well-defined path for students to easily transition from community college to the four-year university. As part of the program, students are assigned advisors from NC State, in addition to a COA advisor, to help guide them on their path to transfer to NC State.

  For more information on COA’s Agribusiness Technology program, visit www.albemarle.edu/ag.

Source: “Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Agriculture, Renewable Natural Resources, and the Environment, United States, 2015-2020” https://purdue.edu/usda/employment/

Career Outlook

Ag Finance Specialist $32.23 hourly, $76,050 annually
Projected growth (2018-2028) 4.3%
Projected new job openings (2018-2019) 13,700*

Agribusiness Operations Manager $24.23 hourly, $60,510 annually
Projected growth (2018-2028) 11.2%
Projected new job openings (2018-2019) 8,400*

Commercial Farmer/Rancher $43.62 hourly, $100,370 annually
Projected growth (2018-2028) 18.1%
Projected new job openings (2018-2019) 95,600*

Farm Equipment Sales $41.88 hourly, $98,640 annually
Projected growth (2018-2028) 5.3%
Projected new job openings (2018-2019) 36,000*

Farm Labor Contractor $25.45 hourly, $52,930 annually*
Projected growth (2018-2028) 14.9%*
Projected new job openings (2018-2019) 200*

Farm Manager $43.62 hourly, $100,370 annually
Projected growth (2018-2028) 18.1%
Projected new job openings (2018-2019) 95,600*

Grain Buyer $26.32 hourly, $61,680 annually
Projected growth (2018-2028) 6.3%
Projected new job openings (2018-2019) 40,200*

All wages are the median for 2018. All data from Bureau of Labor Statistics and Onetonline.org.
* National data