Finding employment after college can be a stressful experience for students and their families.
But for students with degrees in food, agriculture, natural resources or the environment, there will be plenty of opportunities in the coming years.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there will be a high demand for college graduates in the agriculture and food industries during the next five years. The USDA estimates there will be 57,900 job openings per year in those industries. However, only 35,400 graduates will join the workforce from American agricultural colleges per year.
To fill those agricultural roles, employers are looking to graduates with related majors. Finding graduates with a background in agriculture is more desirable, though.
“There is no more rewarding career than getting to help feed people, and that’s what I get to do every day,” said Miriam Martin, a 2015 University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources graduate. Martin is currently a herdsman for the Nolles Cattle Company, after serving as a Missouri Farm Bureau Ambassador. “Being a part of CAFNR taught me how to network with industry stakeholders, as well as how to build strong relationships with my peers. I learned how to communicate with different audiences, which has proved valuable to my career. I work on a ranch in northern Nebraska where I use those skills every day.”
The USDA reported production agriculture positions make up only 15 percent of the open jobs, such as farming. The other 85 percent consists of jobs in education, business and management, and science and engineering. Nearly half of the jobs are in the business and management field.
“In order to feed a growing world population, we must produce graduates from a variety of disciplines and experiences who can work together to meet the challenges and be innovative,” said Bryan Garton, associate dean and director of academic programs at CAFNR.
The world of agriculture offers a broad range of job prospects. From an agricultural economist to a veterinarian to a public relations specialist—there are numerous ways to get involved in the industry.
“Graduates with experience and education in food, agriculture and natural resource disciplines are in high demand by our industry partners,” Garton said. “Graduates from these programs are more adept at transitioning into entry-level industry positions than graduates with limited to no experience.”
College as a pathway to ag professional
CAFNR graduates have plenty of success stories to tell. In fact, 93 percent of its students are employed in a field directly related to their degree program.
CAFNR prepares students for the workforce in numerous ways. Career and internship fairs open the door to different industries. Mock interviews and resumé building give students an opportunity to refine their skills in a professional setting.
That education begins in the classroom, though.
“CAFNR helped prepare me for the future by having experienced professionals teaching me everything they knew,” Trey Barger said. “All my professors were distinguished and respected in their fields and would go above and beyond to help you succeed.”
Barger graduated with a degree in Agricultural Systems Management in 2015. He also earned a minor in Agricultural Economics.
Partnering for the future
Since 2013, MFA Incorporated has been working with college students from CAFNR and other colleges and universities in its trade territory through the MFA Ag Experience, an intensive internship program.
When MFA launched the program, response was modest. Some 11 interns were hired from about 25 applicants. But in the years following, interest in the program has grown dramatically. Competition to earn a spot in the MFA Ag Experience is strong because of the real-world, real-employee approach the company takes with students.
“MFA has a long history of supporting rural youth and agricultural education,” said Erin Teeple, corporate services and HR supervisor at MFA Incorporated. “The MFA Ag Experience is another layer of that commitment, but the program isn’t just altruistic. MFA faces the same challenges in finding quality employees as other employers in the industry. The predictions that agricultural job opportunities will outnumber qualified prospects mean we have to do our part to make sure we can identify and hire strong job candidates. As a cooperative, service to our customers is a priority. That means we need top-notch employees.”
MFA customizes each internship, catering as much as possible to a student’s interest. In the interview, students share what area interests them and where they live. MFA tries to match students’ interest with a need in the company while keeping them close to home. The first day is orientation and paperwork. Students meet their supervisors and attend a couple of meetings. The next day they go to work.
“The program is good for the company, and it’s good for the student. The students get the kind of experience that will make them more valuable in the job market, and it gives them first-hand knowledge about MFA,” Teeple said. “We have hired several MFA Ag Experience participants as they graduated, and several, as part-time employees while they were still in school.”
Identifying in-school opportunities such as internships is an important part of student services for colleges and universities.
“CAFNR prepared me for the future with the great variety of courses that were available,” Matt Eisenbath said. “Most importantly, however, CAFNR provided real connections to people in the working world. For example, through CAFNR I became involved in the Dickinson and John Brown Scholars programs my sophomore and junior years. These programs gave me the opportunity to meet employers in my major and allowed me to establish relationships with these companies. My current career with Schnucks stemmed from a conversation I had with a vice president at our tour of a Schnucks store in Des Peres. It seemed like a small thing at the time, but they remembered me from that day, which allowed me to be hired for the management program I am currently in.”
Eisenbath graduated in 2014 with a degree in Science and Agricultural Journalism. He also has a minor in Agricultural Economics.
Unemployment and underemployment figures for the United States remain daunting, but for students interested in agriculture, there are bright prospects and organizations that are willing to invest in them.