Agriculture today is an exciting field within which many career paths can be pursued. The diversity of agriculture as a sector of our market economy is astounding. Careers in the basic sciences, biotechnology, animal science, agronomy, horticulture, dairy, poultry, beef, hay production, animal management, sales and marketing, viticulture and enology, food services, equipment sales and service, production agriculture, environmental science, organic production of foodstuffs, plant and animal breeding, and all types of further processing of raw agricultural food and fiber products are just a few of the many possibilities. Within NTCC’s 8-county service area (Camp, Cass, Franklin, Hopkins, Morris, Titus, Upshur, and Wood) total gross agriculture sales approach $500 million, with poultry and eggs, milk, and beef holding the top three spots. If one considers gross agriculture sales for the entire State of Texas, this figure swells to more than $16 billion. As a segment of our national economy, it has been estimated that agriculture accounts for 16% of the Gross National Product.
JOBS FOR AGRICULTURAL DEGREES
by Jennifer Alyson, Demand Media
Agriculture isn't just for farmers. Agriculture degrees open up a variety of career options, ranging from sales and marketing with big agribusinesses to management with commercial nurseries. An agriculture degree can even be a launching pad to a career in agricultural law. The best hiring prospects are students who take classes covering a wide array of agricultural topics, from sustainable farming to general animal science.
The business and economics world has the greatest variety of career opportunities for agriculture majors. Banks and credit agencies that lend to agribusinesses hire loan officers, credit analysts and appraisers, and agriculture-oriented companies need accountants. To help mitigate losses, insurance companies that cover farming operations bring on risk managers. Other business opportunities in agriculture include sales, marketing, commodities trading, farm management and policy analysis. Besides banks and insurers, types of farming-related businesses include feedlot operations, feed and seed companies, farm cooperative services and supply firms. To break into agribusiness, look for internships and consider an advanced degree in the field.
Federal, state and local governments have job openings in agriculture-related agencies. From federal inspection bureaus such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture to state cooperative extensions, agriculture majors are in demand. In addition to basic inspection work, agriculture majors who work for public agencies also analyze industry policies and keep tabs on potential legislation that affects farmers, ranchers and other agribusinesses. To prepare for an agricultural career in government, volunteer with local agencies such as 4-H, hone your communications skills and apply for internships with government agencies.
An agriculture degree qualifies a grad for work on conservation of forests, fish and wildlife. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Fish and Wildlife Service and national and state parks need employees with agricultural credentials to develop management plans for resources, such as harvesting of trees for use in wood products. Job opportunities exist in the private sector as well, through privately owned reserves, ranches and agricultural production firms. Many jobs in this subfield require physical stamina to handle long hours outdoors. It also helps to volunteer for nature centers, and many employers look for candidates who minored in business and took communications courses such as conflict management.
Graduates with an agriculture degree can choose careers in food science and technology. Agribusinesses that produce meat and poultry need researchers, inspectors and salespeople. Food processors who transform crops and livestock into grocery products employ people in quality assurance, research, food chemistry and distribution. If you’re interested in food science, consider additional undergraduate coursework in chemistry, biology and microbiology. Also, internships help, especially if they’re with food-related research labs or sales departments. Job opportunities include work with farmers, crop consulting firms and cooperative extensions, among others.
Commercial and residential landscapers and nurseries need agriculture majors for a variety of jobs, including plant production and therapy, garden design, arboriculture, management and sales. Potential employers include wholesale growers, botanical gardens, arboretums, universities and landscaping firms. A minor in business helps agriculture majors who want to manage nurseries or landscaping operations, and skills with speaking, writing and photography are important for working with the public.
Teaching agriculture at the primary, secondary or university level is another career option. In addition to classroom instruction, teachers and professors may provide training through agricultural education services such as extensions and farm bureaus. Plus, research and research analysis are part of the job at the college level. Agriculture majors who want to teach need a teaching certificate from their state to instruct K-12 students. For university research and instruction, a Ph.D. is necessary. To gain early experience, volunteer to help a faculty member with research, and join tutoring or peer-mentoring groups.
Regardless of the field they choose, agriculture majors need specific coursework to prepare for a career. Core classes should include sustainable agriculture, soil and crop science, horticulture, international agriculture and integrated pest management. Other basic courses include physiology, genetics, nutrition, botany, ecology and general animal science. Look for an agriculture program that offers concentrations in agricultural topics such as animal science, applied economics, sustainable agriculture, crop production and management, communication and education. Students with an undergraduate degree in agriculture also have the educational foundation for an advanced degree in agricultural law or business.
About the author: Jennifer Alyson started writing professionally in 1995. Her work has appeared in the "Chicago Tribune," the "New York Post" and "Where" magazine. She covers business and real estate, but writes about topics ranging from rock-climbing to jewelry design. She holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from University of Kansas.
To learn about career opportunities in agriculture, please check out our Resource Links page.