Growing need for ag expertise: Not all high-paid careers are on the farm

Posted: December 13, 2017 | Word Count: 1,115
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(BPT) – As the farming industry faces growing consolidation in the U.S., one might get the impression fewer jobs are now available in agriculture.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Today, one in three people worldwide — more than a billion employees — work in an ag-related industry.

Industry growth and digital innovation combined with retirements are driving significant demand for college grads and other professionals, including those without experience in typical ag-related subjects, and many feature excellent salaries. The USDA and Purdue University predict 57,900 jobs requiring ag skills will become available each year between now and 2020 while only 35,000 grads in food, ag, renewable resources or environment studies will look to fill those jobs each year. Further, the average starting salary in the U.S. for those graduating with bachelor’s degrees in agriculture or natural resources was a healthy $54,364 as of winter 2017, a 12 percent increase from 2016.

"People are starting to discover (agriculture) is a pretty good industry to be in,” Iowa State College Career Services Director Mike Gaul recently told CNBC. “They realize this sector isn't our traditional what-we-joke 'cows, plows and sows' industry anymore. It's incredibly diverse."

The expectation is that grads with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and/or the environment will fill 61 percent of all ag-related openings, while employers must seek grads in other majors to fill the 39 percent gap. Notably, women already make up more than half of the higher-ed grads in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environmental studies.

High school grads considering degrees in agriculture might consider one of these highest-paying ag occupations:

1. C-suite executives: The CEOs, COOs and CFOs at ag startups or established corporations routinely earn $200,000-plus for overseeing company growth and profitability. A bachelor’s or master’s degree is generally needed in addition to a background in leadership and at least five years’ industry experience.

2. Ag lawyers: Because ag is so highly regulated, such professionals may handle issues related to water, land use, pesticides, seeds, the environment, labor/HR, immigration, commerce, intellectual property, mergers/acquisitions, etc. Salaries average out at $160,000. Required: a bachelor’s degree followed by a J.D. and completed state bar exam.

3. Ag sales managers: Those skilled in overseeing sales teams are earning an average $125,000-plus annually. Most hold bachelor’s degrees in agronomy, crop science, soil science, biology, agricultural business or a related field.

4. Ag scientists: Salaries average out at $120,000. A bachelor’s degree is usually sufficient, with in-demand specialties including bioinformatics, animal genetics or the regulatory environment (managing and strategizing a product through the regulatory process).

5. Ag engineers: Among specialties in demand are environmental, ethanol and mechanical engineers, with average salaries running upwards of $80,000 for those holding bachelor’s degrees.

Bottom line: The next generation of ag specialists will be crucial to helping solve the world’s most pressing issues.

Agricultural company Syngenta is supporting that cause by bestowing multiple college scholarships to ag students each year, and of course hiring many grads in various majors.

"This is an exciting time in agriculture because we have new tools to develop better seeds and crop protection products, as well as digital solutions to help farmers be more productive,” says Ian Jepson, head of trait research and developmental biology at Syngenta. “We encourage students to think about the wide range of challenging and rewarding careers in companies like ours to help develop and deliver what farmers need to feed the world."

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