When most people think of careers in agriculture, they probably picture a pastoral scene of rolling fields full of fat, black-and-white cows. Free-range chickens scratch around off to the right, technicolor vegetables grow in orderly rows to the left, and somewhere in the background, a lone farmer putters along on an open tractor.
It’s a pretty scene, but it hardly conveys the vast scope of today’s agricultural industry. Though 97 percent of the country’s farms are categorized as small by the USDA, modern farms are hardly one-man operations, and are far from the only career path in the industry.
We’ve rounded up five more of the biggest myths about careers in agriculture, and we’re busting each one below. Which ones did you think were true?
Myth 1: It’s a boy’s club.
Traditionally agriculture has been a very male-dominated field. Since the 80s, however, that has been changing. Between 1983 and 2007, the number of female-owned farms grew by 184,600, nearly tripling in number, while the number of man-operated farms dropped by nearly 220,800. By 2012, the U.S. Census counted nearly 1 million women in agriculture positions across the U.S.
This year the USDA also created the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network to support women in all sorts of agricultural leadership roles, from farming to ag journalism to research. Today, there have never been more opportunities for women in agriculture and food production industries.
Myth 2: It’s a dying industry.
Ask most people what they think of agriculture’s future in the U.S., and the responses you get won’t be very hopeful. It’s a common belief that farming in the U.S. is dying, and indeed, the statistics look grim. Currently only six percent of U.S. farmers are under the age of 35, and according to a study by the Northwest Food Processors Association, 40 percent of the food processing management workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2017.
But numbers aren’t everything. According to economist Carl Zulauf at Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, the age spike among agricultural employees “mirrors the U.S. labor force,” and has since at least the 1980s. Says Zulauf,
While much is written about the need to replace the aging U.S. farmer population, the 1970 period of farm prosperity suggest the current period of prosperity will lead to an influx of younger farmers, sons and daughters of existing farmers and from non‐farm backgrounds. This influx will likely occur over a number of years and its magnitude will depend on the staying power of the current farm prosperity.
And it seems that influx may have started already. According to the USDA, 18 percent of principal operators on family farms started in the last 10 years, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than 60 percent of agriculture job openings between 2012 and 2022 will go to recent college graduates.
Myth 3: It’s farmers only.
When most people think of careers in agriculture, they picture the quintessential farmer in overalls and a straw hat. But modern commercial food production encompasses countless positions far beyond just the primary grower. In years past, a farmer needed to be an expert in every aspect of farming, from soil management to business and finance. But as both farms and food production companies have grown, so have the opportunities for specialization.
Just as with other companies, agricultural companies need several different skillsets to keep them in business. Today, candidates with backgrounds in economics, business, communications, accounting and finance, human resources, and management are increasingly sought after to help with daily operations.
For instance, if you have experience in business management, you may find a position at a larger farm or food company even if you have no prior experience in agriculture. If your background is in accounting and finance, you may find a position keeping the books for a produce broker just as fulfilling as working for an accounting firm.
Myth 4: It takes little or no education.
Gone are the days when you could learn everything you needed to know about farming or food production from your father or grandfather. Like most other industries, the scope of modern agriculture has expanded to include technology in nearly every field, and formal training in that category is required for the vast majority of executive positions.
This explains the uptick in students seeking agricultural degrees since 1980. In the 30-year span from 1980-2009, the number of students who graduated with a degree in agriculture increased nearly 10 percent nationwide, while the enrollment in some universities’ agricultural schools has more than doubled in a fraction of that time. Universities in the midwest and in California often have the strongest agricultural degree programs.
Modern agriculture degree programs are often split fairly evenly between courses that focus on agricultural business management and courses that emphasize plant, animal and soil management. Often, these programs will cover topics such as agriculture microeconomics, food and ag marketing, agricultural research and statistics, and agribusiness management, all of which may prove viable career opportunities for the students enrolled.
Myth 5: There’s no room for growth.
If you’re looking to manage an entire department, the agricultural industry may be for you. Contrary to popular belief, this field is bursting with opportunities.
Most U.S. farms are family owned and operated, and have been for generations. According to the USDA, 97 percent of the country’s 2.1 million farms are family owned, while 88 percent are smaller operations. Unlike with larger corporations with locations all over the country, working for a smaller company allows you to take more ownership of your department.
If you stay with the company long enough, you may even have the chance to take on a larger role through a promotion. According to a study by the Northwest Food Processors Association, 40 percent of the food processing management workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2017, leaving an equal number of management positions needing to be filled. Add to that the fact that many growers are choosing to promote from within for management positions rather than struggle to find a qualified outside candidate, and opportunities for executive growth in agriculture look quite promising.
If you are considering a career in agriculture, you’ve come to the right place. For more than 15 years we have developed a clientele of the best growers and food producers across North America to ensure that you find the position that is perfect for you.To learn more about our