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CCFB News» May 2024

At the Farm GateFinding a fit with food, fiber, fuel

05/02/2024 @ 8:30 am | By Joanie Stiers

Finding a fit with food, fiber, fuel

Match passions, interests with agriculture career


The agriculture industry employs more citizens than any other industry in the United States at 22 million people across more than 250 career areas, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).


Commonly unrealized, greater than 90% of jobs in the agriculture and food sector are not farming. The industry employs engineers, plant breeders, foresters, veterinarians, agriscience teachers, food scientists, climate specialists and hundreds more professions. In fact, too many choices made our high school senior struggle to decide on a particular career field in agriculture. She enjoys almost every aspect of the industry, but finally leaned on her fascination with plants and her FFA experiences with soils to select a double-major in agronomy and horticulture.


Too often, agriculture is overlooked for satisfying and successful careers, and no farm background is required. I remember my conversation with a Chicago high school sophomore from the south side of the city, who hadn’t considered agriculture as a career path until attending a conference for minorities in agriculture. He developed an interest in agricultural technology through MANRRS, or Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences. Illinois Farm Bureau actively supports this traditionally collegiate organization, which has experienced a rebirth at the high school level. It brings exposure to agricultural careers for students as young as 7th grade largely in schools that lack an agricultural education department. Schools can develop local chapters, which deliver career awareness and opportunities for personal and leadership development through resume building, public speaking, agriscience research, essay contests and training in workplace skills.


Just last year, the Illinois Farm Bureau supported the launch of Agnitor, a digital platform designed to connect agriculture professionals to classrooms for virtual conversations about careers. The mechanically minded may like a profession as an agriculture engineer or diesel technician. Techy teens might take interest in high-tech livestock barns or agricultural application drones. Students who enjoy biochemistry should consider agronomy or biofuels. We need graphic designers for jobs in ag marketing, writers as ag journalists, and researchers to keep agriculture cutting edge.


The job demand in agriculture outpaces the available college graduates. More than 59,000 job openings will be available – per year – in agriculture, food, renewable natural resources and related industries through at least 2025, according to the 2020-2025 Employment Opportunities Report by the USDA and Purdue University. Good news for college graduates: The nation’s largest employer is looking for applicants.


About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family, growing corn, soybeans and hay and raising beef cattle and backyard chickens in West-Central Illinois.

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