Published on 08/25/09

Ag jobs shine in tough times

By J. Scott Angle
University of Georgia

Over the past year, news stories and editorials have clearly told the story of budget woes at Georgia’s public schools, colleges and universities. These funding cuts come at a time when more of Georgia’s college-bound students are staying in state to make the most of their own college funds. That creates a serious challenge for Georgia’s public colleges and universities to provide adequate faculty to meet the demand of students we are charged by our very charters to educate.

It creates a challenge for parents and students, too. They must carefully choose areas of study that will offer rewarding careers with ample employment opportunities when the students graduate. Getting a clear picture in this up-and-down economic haze isn’t easy.

Tops in jobs

While we welcome a new class of students to campus this week, many parents, students and high school counselors across Georgia are beginning to study which schools, degree programs and careers offer the best opportunities in the marketplace and society. Agriculture is not only first alphabetically on many lists but also is at the top of the heap of good opportunity.

At spring graduation, fewer College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ students were still looking for jobs as they received their diplomas than those from other University of Georgia colleges and schools. A UGA Career Center survey showed that less than six percent of CAES graduates said they were still seeking employment, compared to numbers as high as 31 percent in other UGA colleges. The median percentage of UGA students still seeking employment at graduation was 13.46 percent among the 12 colleges.

This year, a study from the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development showed that through 2016 there will be twice as many agricultural jobs available in Georgia as students graduating from all Georgia colleges in agriculture-related programs to fill them. We expect those employment opportunities to continue to skyrocket.

Growth ahead

Many sources say with relative certainty that world population growth will demand food production double by 2050. How we meet that demand on the same limited acres for agricultural production will largely be answered in the classrooms, research facilities and Cooperative Extension programs at American land-grant universities.

Keeping these vital programs moving at the necessary pace against the currents of dwindling budgets will be a challenge. I am confident we and our colleagues at Fort Valley State University and across the country are up to the challenge. For the more than 25,000 people in our world who die from malnutrition every day, our success is a matter of life and death.

One of the most important variables in that equation is recruiting, educating and training a strong agricultural workforce to fuel the industry and attract more agribusinesses to Georgia. UGA continues to draw the brightest minds from across the state, nation and world. We want to make sure those incoming students know about the opportunities available in agriculture.

Many students come to our college following family tradition and dedication to an agrarian way of life. Others choose agriculture as an extension of their curiosity about basic science or the ever-growing fields of environmental science, biotechnology and biomedical research. Still others find agricultural careers to be the answer to an altruistic calling to help their fellow man.

Tops in scholarship, salaries

No matter why they choose agricultural careers, the future is bright. And, the rewards for those who are up to the challenge are great. Our students continue their education in graduate programs in record numbers. CAES tops all UGA colleges in the percentage of students attending graduate school with 34 percent seeking advanced degrees.

Those entering the workforce find financial rewards in agriculture. Their starting salaries including bonuses are second among UGA colleges behind only the Terry College of Business. Plus, agriculture tends to remain more stable than most industries during tough economic times because we produce the only goods consumed by 100 percent of the world’s population. People may become more careful about how they spend their food budget, but there will always be a need for an affordable food supply and jobs for those who produce it.

U.S. policy changes precipitated by a growing need to provide an abundant, safe world food supply and to increase economic opportunity in developing countries will continue to escalate opportunities for students pursuing careers in agriculture. Meeting that demand for food, fiber and fuel will help our students leave a lasting legacy in the world that stretches far beyond the dinner table.

(J. Scott Angle is dean and director of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

J. Scott Angle is a former dean and director of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.