Start Smart With College

Young adults interested in a career in agriculture should prepare themselves by pursuing a broad, skills-based education.
Start Smart With College
Most people don’t realize that agriculture is one of today’s high-demand careers. But a look at a popular website for agricultural jobs,, shows the industry has a wealth of positions available for young people with the right knowledge. The website lists more than 7,000 ag-related jobs daily, and, in 2015, it posted a total of 81,386 jobs in agriculture.

What is driving this demand? The answer is an expanding global population that increases by 83 million people each year, according to United Nations’ figures. “In order to live, these people must be fed, and agriculture is responsible for that—while using fewer resources than before,” says Ashley Collins, education and marketing manager for

The need to farm more efficiently has created stunning technological advancements in agriculture that were only dreamed of 20 years ago. Today’s farm machinery is equipped to operate with little driver intervention. Wireless communications allows machinery in the field to record and report information like location, application rates and equipment breakdowns to operators, managers and even equipment dealerships for immediate attention and future analysis. Strides in genetics and agronomics have revolutionized the seed and crop-protection industries by boosting yields with precisely applied crop inputs.

Education Needed

“Change is happening so fast in agriculture,” says Danny Klinefelter, Ph.D., Texas A&M University ag economist. “Part of it is in real-time information and digital communications. It will take a broad education to keep up to speed on these tools. If your

“Going to college will expose students to different things. They’ll have a chance to work with other people, learn to balance time and develop a broad background of knowledge.”

Danny Klinefelter
farm business is going to succeed, your management must continue to learn, improve and adapt to the leading edge of the competition, or it will fall behind.”

Both Klinefelter and Collins encourage all young people who hope to work in agriculture to continue their education after high school, regardless of whether they plan to become growers or enter another sector of the industry.

“The most dangerous thing to say is, ‘I’m doing this because this is the way we’ve always done it,’” Klinefelter says. “Going to college will expose students to different things. They’ll have a chance to work with other people, learn to balance time and develop a broad background of knowledge.”

While he’s seen English majors go back to farm successfully, Klinefelter says ideally growers should have some combination of business, agriculture and engineering degrees. “This prepares them for another job, which will help them decide if they really want to farm,” he says. “Most young people need to work somewhere else for a different perspective, before going back to the farm.”

Ag students should also add some diverse course work to their schedules. Klinefelter suggests personnel management, negotiation, interpersonal relations, enterprise risk assessment, managerial/cost accounting, financial analysis or global studies. “They may have to deal with employees, suppliers, buyers and even public relations because of regulations,” he says.

Advanced Degrees Matter

Advanced degrees are high on a priority list for many of the jobs posted on About 50 percent require at least a bachelor’s degree, and another 25 percent require an associate or certificate level of education.

The competition among applicants for these jobs is strong. “When we look at the education level among applicants, 64 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 14 percent have a master’s,” Collins says. “So if young people want to compete in the marketplace, they need to consider advanced education.”

College gives ag students a chance to develop a broad background of knowledge.

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Advanced training helps students develop employability skills, according to Collins. “These are skills an employer looks for, like good work ethic, strong communication skills and awareness of how the global market impacts their career.”

Work toward an advanced degree also helps students find professional internships. “Advanced education will open the door to internships,” Collins says. “Even when planning to go back to the farm, an internship will allow students to learn things outside their comfort zone.”

Internships in agriculture continue to grow in numbers. AgCareers listed 1,800 internships last year, a 17 percent jump over 2014.

Many companies like Syngenta offer a number of student internships. “The three main skills we look for in a sales intern, for example, are business acumen, knowledge of sales and insight into agronomy,” says Jenny Heaton, head of talent development and talent acquisition at Syngenta, North America.

Diverse Job Market

The jobs available in agriculture are diverse. Collins says she and her AgCareers colleagues have written profiles of more than 200 different careers that are posted on their website. “Right now, we see a number of postings in the biotechnology realm,” she says. “There’s a big demand in plant pathology and genetics—and the same in animal genetics and sciences.”

Research in these areas will lead to new products, which create a need for sales. “Sales is the No. 1 career type we see posted on our website,” Collins adds.

The growth of diverse positions in agriculture will continue, especially as farming becomes increasingly complex with more information available for analyzing. “I believe there are high school students today who will likely take agricultural jobs out of college that haven’t even been established as careers quite yet,” says Heaton. “The industry is moving fast.”