As agriculture advocates it is our responsibility to spread the TRUTH about how agriculture really works, to share our passion with an increasingly unfamiliar population, and to revolutionize the negative image the general public generates of us. Every second we choose to live in silence, organizations like PETA and HSUS take advantage of our idleness and falsely exploit agriculture as a “useless” profession. In a recent Yahoo article, Agriculture was deemed the “No. 1 Useless College Degree”, followed by Animal Science at No. 4, and Horticulture at No. 5. As the future face of American agriculture, we should all find it particularly discomforting to realize just how unaware and uninformed billions of people are when it comes to knowing the importance of what being an agriculturalist really means.
The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences encompasses an enormously diverse group of people, extending far past the stereotypical farmers and ranchers. We have modernized and grown into a profession that develops economists, scientists, pharmacists, researchers, veterinarians, biologists, nutritionists, geneticists, and the list goes on and on; so why is agriculture still being plagued by a bad reputation? Articles and other public service announcements like the one recently printed on Yahoo haunt our industry all too often and frequently express the single opinion of an author with no connection to agriculture and statistical resources that are misinterpreted. For instance, the Yahoo article states that “when schools such as the University of Idaho cut their ag programs, you know times are tough for this degree”, when in reality the College of Ag and Life Sciences is the second largest college in the entire University!
The agriculture industry as a whole is continuously striving to become more efficient and consolidate in order to increase productivity, and in doing so has cut down not only on the costs of production and natural resources but admittedly on the number of jobs as well. Despite this however are an increasing number of jobs available for small-scale farmers that have the opportunity to deal directly with consumers and marketing cooperations, an advantageous strategy that gives farmers a larger share of their consumer’s dollars. In addition to the numerous jobs created in these developing niche markets, over half of the existing farmers in the US will retire within the next decade and need to be replaced in order to sustain a demanding world population that will triple by the year 2050, requiring 100% more food and 70% more technology. Managerial jobs in farming, ranching, and agriculture are expected to continue rising by approximately 6% within the next seven years and while they may endure “getting up with the sun and working till it sets”, they enjoy being their own boss and take pride in providing the shirt on your back and the food on your table.
Animal Science comes in next as the “No. 4 Useless College Degree because it is so specific that you cannot transfer any useful skills to jobs outside of animal science”. On the contrary, the science background required for animal science students is extremely extensive and often leads to graduate or professional school where they further facilitate the study of animals to fulfill their primary goal: meeting human needs, whether it be consumption or companionship. Animal scientists are trained to work not only in livestock production but also in numerous professional environments and can be found in the “medical, pharmaceutical, financial, public health, business, nutrition, research, education, and genetic career fields, just to name a few”. The U.S. Department of Labor expects a “13% increase in employment within the next six years” coupled with “an unemployment rate well below the national average”, according to the 2009-2012 American Community Survey. Overall, animal scientists are represented in many different forms and fashions in the work force yet it is evident that future employment remains optimistic for animal science students who are seeking a career opportunity in agriculture.
Horticulture is the last of the trio rated at No. 5. As with all aspects of agriculture, a degree within this field can range considerably but a few common careers may encompass crop production, biochemistry, genetic engineering, soil preservation, crop yields, or plant physiology. Horticulturists study the most effective uses of our natural resources and aim to protect and preserve our soil, water, and ecosystems for future generations. While some work to improve our food’s nutritional value and improve crop yields others are embarking on different ways to stop soil erosion and maintain its mineral value between harvests. They are the leaders on the forefront of the “Going Green” movement, striving to consolidate and minimize harmful environmental effects and engineering new ways to successfully convert organic material into usable energy sources. Many emerging forms of agriculture in areas like organic farming, food safety, diet and nutrition, landscaping, biofuel and other niche markets are becoming progressively popular and are creating additional jobs for thousands of agriculturalists. The employment rate for soil and plant scientists has remained steady even throughout the current economic recession and remarkably is projected to “grow by over 16% between 2008 and 2018, faster than the average for all other occupations”, stated by the US Department of Labor. The opportunities within the horticulture industry are growing exponentially larger each year, and without them we would find ourselves rapidly approaching the day that there isn’t enough food or resources to go around, and what’s left most families couldn’t afford.
As of today, one in five people in the United States go without food; and hunger kills more than AIDS, war, malaria, and tuberculosis combined throughout the world. Agriculturalists live to serve the people of the world yet they are repeatedly cut down and underappreciated by the billions of individuals they support. What most people don’t realize is that American agriculture is continuously diversifying and employs over 23 million people, over 17% of the entire work force! Students that choose an agriculture degree know that they are doing work that matters and have hundreds of career opportunities available to them upon graduation. They are feeding and clothing the world, protecting our natural resources, and creating jobs to support our future generations. What’s useless about that? Speak up, reach out, and tell your story! It’s time for a revolution.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Agricultural and Food Scientists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos046.htm .
"About CALS." University of Idaho-Moscow, Boise, Coeur D'Alene, and Idaho Falls. Web. 02 Feb. 2012. <http://www.uidaho.edu/cals/about>.
American Society of Animal Science Board of Directors, "Animal Scientists Respond to Yahoo's "College Majors that are Useless"." American Society of Animal Science 20 Jan 2012. 2 Feb 2012 <http://www.asas.org/takingstock/?p=2356>.
Blog Writer: Lea Luensmann