Report: Major Food And Agriculture Employers Can’t Fill Vital Jobs

There’s a national shortage of young agricultural professionals, according to a report just released, which calls for industries and universities to work together to address the gap.

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The report, divulged at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue, includes a detailed analysis of enrollment and workforce trends in six agriculture fields: Agricultural Business and Management, Agriculture Mechanization and Engineering, Animal Sciences, Plant and Soil Science, Food Science and Technology, and other life sciences.

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Food & Ag Council, the sponsor of this inaugural report, found that career opportunities in the food and agriculture industries for the next generation will be significant:

  • From January to August 2014, nearly 34,000 people were hired each month.
  • A quarter of workers are at the age of 55 or older, which means job opportunities will grow through workforce attrition.
  • The report analysis projects a 4.9% growth in employment opportunities in the next five years, adding 33,100 new jobs in advanced agriculture fields.

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) leaders embraced the report’s findings and pledged to continue close relationships with industry leaders who help them identify the skills and training graduates need for career success.

“The report describes with specific statistics what we’ve long heard from our industry partners, that they can’t find enough qualified professionals to fill vital jobs,” said Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources. “The future of Florida’s economy and its 280 agricultural commodities depend upon the quality and quantity of the next generation of leaders we produce.”

The report includes recommendations on closing the human capital gap and provides an annual snapshot of the workforce supply and demand for each of the identified programs.

Visit StemConnector.org to read the full report.

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Avatar for Matt Matt says:

Part of the problem is there are very few growth opportunities in agriculture unless you are an academic. When farms morph into megalithic agribusiness the type of opportunities for those who would like to either work on the farm or run a farm are very limited. These structures are built around moving capitol and profits to people who are usually not farmers.

Small farms and family farmers are finding they can no longer make a living by farming. The end of direct subsidies to farmers will mean more small and medium farmers will exit farming. This will encourage even larger corporate farms to take over the smaller farms. It is not too hard to see why so few in our younger generations are interested in entering a field that is tied to farming. As we have it now, with the end of direct farmer subsidies, corn is unprofitable to grow, wheat is unprofitable to grow, soybeans are barely profitable.

Vegetables may be a bright spot, but they typically require a lot of cheap human labor for harvest which is currently not readily available. I think there are many young people who may want to enter a farming career, but unless your family is already scaling up, there is very little incentive to enter a farming career. The capitol costs are astronomical and margins are some of the thinnest of any industry.

Our government, and the public at large, seems to prefer to source food from third world nations where the cost of labor, safety standards and other food safety related costs seem to be minimized.

My father turned 70 this year. This is the first year he asked me if I wanted to take over some of his rented land. He said it is not worth planting anymore. Without the direct farm subsidies his profit per acre with a yield of 175 bushels of corn per acre at current market prices was $10/acre. I am planting vegetables, but it is such a volatile market. The only way I can make a profit is to charge almost double what imported food from Mexico and south America costs. An example is tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes cost me around $11.50/case to grow, pick and deliver. Local restaurants are buying that SAME case of “Grown in Mexico” cherry tomatoes from a distributor for $12. Can I make a profit at $.50/case and stay in business? No. I sell to restaurants that “Buy local” and advertise it. They pay $18/case which IS profitable. Without a community that is willing to support locally grown food, why should I both growing it at all? I could make more money by working for someone else and it would be a whole lot less work.

When Americans refuse to buy from their neighbor, they should not be surprised when they see all their food being grown in third world countries and a lack of young people wanting to enter the field. As I keep hearing from all of the ignorant public “Farmer’s are rich”. If I did not love what I did, I would think I was nuts to keep doing it.

Avatar for David David says:

Matt, I believe you are correct in what you are saying but do not go deep enough. Mainly, I believe, because of the media Americans want the safest food possible but when it comes down to it they don’t want to pay for it. Our farm went through a third party audit last year that roughly cost around $40,000.00 to complete. This included time, paperwork, audit consultant, and any changes we had to make to pass. And we are still changing and adding equipment and computer software (another $20,000.00) to better track where our product is going. This is alot of money for our small farm but we felt justified because it delivered our customer a ” safer ” product. Our customers are beginning to ask about GAP audits and whether we have been inspected or not. Most hear something on the news or see something in the big chain stores about food safety but do not know what it takes for small to medium farms to accomplish a 3rd party audit. It is costing the small farmers more and more in taxes/regulations/inspections/ and other paperwork just to grow and sell something. I guess what I am saying is that if I were a young person interested in agriculture I would not be looking at Plant Science, Soil Science, or Food Science I would be looking into a government job that regulated the farmer, that is where the big money is not in actually growing something and feeding the public.

Avatar for CindyKurtz CindyKurtz says:

The ag industry should look at the opportunity of veterans coming back from 10 years of wars in the Middle East. There is a population of trained, mature individuals that could fill the ag job gap. Even without a “scientific” background or degree, there is bound to be a cross-training opportunity.

Avatar for Theprepperinme Theprepperinme says:

Dear Cindy,
As one of those Combat Veterans you speak of, I would like to point out a small error in your logic. You spoke of cross training. Now, while for most fields of business and labor, you would be indeed correct. As a rifleman, I had some cross training in basic medical attention, and could jury rig a small foot bridge, etc. These would not be anywhere near civilian requirements of course, but you would be entirely correct about the ability to enter a world completely different from my military experience and build upon some of my existing skills.
However, not as a farmer. My life in the military did not include learning such things as nitrogen composition in sufficient quantity for optimal growth, or the desired rain quantities at which times for a superior yield. (Myself, I would think steady rain, say twice a week, every week until harvest was good, but speaking with a few friends, I know intellectually this is too much water.) I did have the opportunity to speak to a senator a few years back about how I would love to get into the farming business. And while I can’t say how I met him or the circumstances in which we met, he did go on to talk in more public places about the desire of young Americans wanting to get into the Ag business and how it wasn’t worth it for various reasons.
Unfortunately he got laughed at by a world that no longer cares about farming and farmers, as long as they have food in their plates that is slightly more than they can’t eat, at a price that they feel is cheap enough to warrant them eating THAT food, and not something else. As a 26 year old man, former Marine, yes I would love to own my own farm. As a former Marine who has had to make many judgement calls about target value, I can tell you that farming, on a scale that put you on a national market is usually not worth putting money into. It’s sad, but from a return on investment standpoint, Ag business is, for most, no business.

Avatar for Southern Tier Farmer Southern Tier Farmer says:

Matt and David are both right. It appears the big crop and dairy farmers aren’t able to stay in business without taking govt welfare. David is right that the cost of vegetables coming from outside the country and from the larger corporate farms are so low it is hard for us little guys to compete. We would like to grow our farms like most of the large corporate farms did but are burdened with the high costs of inputs and govt regulation. I guess I will stay a micro farm until i get so fed up with small profits that I will find something else to do and buy my vegetables from some other country like everyone else. Oh, and for Cindy, I am a vet and let the vets do it if they want without the govt wasting millions of our hard earned dollars to try to push them into it. We are not ignorant to the world of work.

Everything that has been posted in the comments section is true. So what are we going to do about it? I am working with a growing operation (pun intended) that is constructing .75-1.5 acre high tunnels in the SE US. The company will sell directly to Whole Foods as well as other organic grocers including area restaurants. They are expecting profits of over $100K per 3/4 acre high tunnel. I just wrote an article for ASAN (Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network) concerning the growing of elder berries. Currently the US imports over 90% of the elderberries we consume. I don’t know what the total value of the imported berries are, but I do know that in 2008 the US imported over 20,000,000 pounds of fruit from Austria at an approximate value of $2.00/#. And that is from a plant that grows wild in most of the US.

The point is there are opportunities in US agriculture. Does that make it easy to earn a living farming? Nothing is easy any more, but it is possible. My company manufactures organic fertilizer from poultry waste. I am already exporting fertilizer to Central America and am working on other parts of the Caribbean. Opportunity is where you find it.

Actually I agree with all of you. I grew up a small town tomato farmer in central Florida. My dad went out of business in 1997 mostly from the adjustment period that took place at that time as Florida farmers lost market share to Canada and Mexico. Our inability to adapt quickly cost us our farm. That being said there are lots of opportunities out there to make a good living and I agree with Michael. However, the classic dream of owning your own farm in FLORIDA is a pipe dream without millions of dollars. With food safety regulations and FDA pressure we are no longer able to sell U Pick tomatoes in Florida. So unless you have a state certified sanitation step you are forbidden to sell your product to the public. So really its the misinformed public that fuels these pressures most of the time.Would you vote for a politician that campaigned against the new FSMA rules? That politician would be viewed as someone against public safety and didn’t care about our kids. How about if everyone washed their food before they ate it? Its our pre-packaged we want it NOW and cheap society that has driven us into this age of huge corporations. Unfortunately a way of life suffers the consequences.

Everyone here seems to understand things are bad right now, and will not improve overnight. Politics and outsiders are killing our industries, by making regulations for something they have the slightest knowledge of. In todays world, you have to love and want to be here everyday, to even come close to making a profit concerning any farm industry. Education is very important and shows people you want more than the next guy.

Growing citrus theoretically in college seemed easy, but all that changes when you get in the field and realize you can’t control everything, just be the best at what you can control in your industry . If you dont take the extra time to learn and utilize the skills needed….your no different than the dude out picking your fruit, education or not. Know your chemistry and how to apply it correctly, plus you must have knowledge of running a business and good people to have a chance.

Avatar for Amy Amy says:

Delaware Valley College in PA, working with Rodale Institute, has a program just like that for vets.

Avatar for Mickey S Mickey S says:

I am a Veteran currently in that program. It’s a great program, the staff at Del Val are amazing. Rodale was great opportunity for me, as somebody with no Ag background to see how a farm works. It is a program that focuses on Organics, so there isn’t much covered on conventional agricultural practices.