US: Growing ag industry has trouble attracting youngsters

While agriculture has become a hot sector for job growth (USDA Employment Opportunities Report, 2015), a just-released survey shows only 13 percent of high school and college students are interested in pursuing a career in the agriculture industry – and just 3 percent can identify it as one of the best fields for college graduates.

The survey, sponsored by America’s Farmers Grow Ag Leaders, a Monsanto Fund program, was conducted in November, a time when many high school students are completing college applications in advance of January 1, 2017 deadlines and as future college graduates are applying for jobs.

Fewer than one in five (19 percent) surveyed indicated that they understood the broad array of career opportunities in agriculture. In fact, the agriculture space is experiencing job growth. According to the USDA, 57,900 high-skilled jobs are created annually in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environmental fields in the United States.

The survey identified several misconceptions that contributed to the findings. For example, only 35 percent of high school and college students believed careers in agriculture were technology-driven.

“One of the program’s goals is to support future agriculture leaders by helping them to understand the wide array of opportunities in agriculture, from business and communications to science, technology and many other fields,” said Al Mitchell, Monsanto Fund president. “For example, whether you visit a family farm or a corporate operation, you will see growers utilizing technology in exciting ways many students may be unaware of, such as global-positioning systems, state-of-the-art soil quality tools and weather forecasting devices to maximize every square-inch of land. But technology-related jobs are just one avenue that students can pursue with careers in agriculture.”

Erickson Research collected data from a total of 1,000 respondents and analyzed the results. When asked to share their interest in working in various industries, 45 percent of respondents were “extremely or very interested” in a career in technology, followed by 40 percent exhibiting the same level interest for a career in arts/entertainment, 35 percent for a career in healthcare, and just 13 percent for a career in agriculture.

To raise awareness of the job prospects in agriculture, the Monsanto Fund supports the America’s Farmers Grow Ag Leaders program, which will award more than $500,000 dollars in scholarships to students across the country in 2017.

The scholarships are open to students in eligible counties who are looking to enroll or are enrolled in trade schools, community colleges and four-year universities. Scholarships are awarded in $1,500 increments to students pursuing an education in an ag-related field of study. Fields include: farming, agronomy, education, science, technology, engineering, business, communications, among many others.

Since the program began in 2014, the America’s Farmers Ag Leaders program has awarded nearly $1.2 million in scholarships to promising students pursuing their education in agriculture.

Students under the age of 23 can enroll in the America’s Farmers Grow Ag Leaders scholarship program from now through Feb. 1, 2017.

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