Commentary: Future prospects remain bright for agricultural graduates

Issue Date: February 15, 2012
By Shannon Douglass
Agricultural students find encouraging job prospects when they graduate, according to California universities.

Shannon Douglass

I can't recall the last time I saw a farmer holding a pitchfork, wearing overalls and chewing on straw, but that stereotypical image of a farmer and agriculturalist still captivates the imagination of many Americans. Recent media coverage has also demonstrated an antiquated view of food and fiber production, misinterpreting U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics information to proclaim college degrees in agriculture as "useless" or "headed for the dustbin."

This lack of understanding about where food comes from and the array of people working to get it on our plates represents an opportunity to invite the public to learn more about farming and ranching, as well as how valuable ag degrees truly are.

I have experienced that firsthand. After graduating with an agriculture diploma, I worked in outreach for the College of Agriculture at California State University, Chico, and now have a position focused on encouraging more students to consider a career in crop protection as a licensed pest control adviser.

There is such tremendous demand for PCAs that my position was created solely to recruit more young people into this path. One of the articles downplaying the importance of agricultural degrees came to my attention when one of the many young people I work with sent me a panicked email, questioning his career choice after reading the article. I quickly assured him that agriculture was a great path to be on and itemized the reasons.

Here are facts we should share with young people, as well as anyone who questions if there is a place for agricultural graduates in our economy:

  • A June 2011 study by the California Community Colleges Workforce and Economic Development Centers of Excellence found that agricultural jobs are expected to grow by 180,000 positions in the coming years. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a decrease in production jobs, reflecting increased mechanization and productivity, the growth in supporting industries such as research, processing, marketing and sales outpaces this loss.
  • The Centers of Excellence study also found that the average salary in California agriculture pays $7,000 more per year than a position outside of agriculture.
  • The world population surpassed 7 billion last year. It takes a lot of work from a multitude of people to meet the demands of our growing population with our limited natural resources.

I also suggest that for a closer look at the topic, we turn to the people most familiar with the subject of agricultural degrees: California's agricultural colleges. Across the board, the schools report strong prospects for their agricultural students. Many of the schools have responded to questions in the media with tangible evidence of just how valuable an agricultural education can be today:

  • David Wehner, the dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, wrote, "Industry leaders throughout California and across the country tell me time and again that they need more of the kinds of students that we graduate from Cal Poly. Each year, companies like Dole, J. Lohr Vineyards and Wine, and Foster Farms, to name a few, actively pursue our graduates from across all disciplines."
  • Studies by the University of California, Davis, found that 88 percent of agricultural sciences graduates report that they are employed in positions related to their education.
  • "Here at CSU Chico, the optimism for agricultural careers can be seen in the 50 percent enrollment growth in programs offered through the College of Agriculture during the past five years," wrote Jennifer Ryder Fox, dean of the College of Agriculture at Chico State.

Furthermore, a study released this January by Georgetown University showed that agriculture and natural resource graduates were among three disciplines least likely to be unemployed, behind only health and education.

A career in agriculture can be in an office or in the outdoors, in sales or production, working with plants, animals, people or in a laboratory. Agricultural careers are available in big cities and in small towns. They are well-paid careers and best of all, they are rewarding.

Agriculturalists work to supply safe, wholesome and affordable food and fiber to support the growing world. We should also work to spread the word about this noble career—one that we hope more young people will consider.

(Shannon Douglass of Orland chairs the state Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee. She may be reached at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.