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Agriculture majors face future with confidence

By Rebecca Wickel @rebeccawickel USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent

People are never going to stop needing food.

That simple truth is what drives the agriculture industry and keeps students studying the field from worrying about the economic pressures that may soon face it.

Agriculture science is seeing a surge at universities; the major’s popularity has led to both a broader field of study and curriculum changes to better prepare students for the field.

“When most people hear the word agriculture, the immediate thing that comes to mind is farmer,” Emmaline Long said, a first-year graduate student at Cornell University. “But now the industry is trending much more toward broader and more diverse careers.”

These diverse careers are what are modernizing the agriculture sector and keeping undergraduates confident in their choice of major. Despite farmland availability and fluctuating monetary value, working in agriculture is not scaring all students.

Some said they were not nervous about entering the agriculture field because it has been a part of their family histories.

“I became interested in the field because my grandfather and family had ties to agriculture whether it be cows or cotton,” Jacob Gomez said, a junior at University of California – Davis. “I kind of had the best of both worlds through plant sciences and animals sciences. When it came time for me to decide, I never thought of it as career choice but a lifestyle.”

It is not just tradition that has soothed fears about the rocky farming market. Curricula and career services have work to give students peace of mind when preparing for post-academic life. Often, programs require at least one agriculture business class to establish a better understanding of subsidies, land purchases and other financial issues of the trade.

Understanding business is key for students interested in agriculture because they may end up making all of the financial decisions during their careers.

“Any agriculture major could end up running his or her own business, and agriculture is in all industries,” Davis Neary said, a freshman at California Polytechnic State University. “It’s important to understand the business side, and I feel like I’m getting that.”

Agriculture and natural resource majors have little to worry about, according to the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. Only 3.5% of experienced college graduates in the field are unemployed, rivaled only by 2.2% of health care grads.

Kari Richards, coordinator of Cornell’s agricultural sciences major, helps more than 25 students search for careers and internships each year. She said the low unemployment rate for agriculture students is not surprising.

“While the financial situation with Midwest land values is an interesting agricultural economic trend, it is not directly related to the range of agricultural career opportunities available to today’s students worldwide,” Richards said. “It is definitely a ‘buyer’s market’ these days; students have a wealth of employment opportunities in agriculture both during the undergraduate years and post-graduation.”

This isn’t to say agriculture majors have it easy. With unpredictable weather patterns, varying feed and fertilizer prices and other factors, Cornell student Emmaline Long said there are some things that a formal education can help prepare for.

“Being an agriculture student alone takes a different caliber of student,” Davis Neary said. “You’re taught responsibility at a young age when you grow up on a farm, and I feel like we definitely will be prepared for the field’s challenges. It’s going to cause a lot of headaches, but at the end of the day, we’ll be able.”