Is agriculture poised for an employment boom?

They say necessity is the mother of invention. If that’s the case then agriculture may be poised for a boom.

The Gainesville Sun reports that as Huanglongbing (HLB) strikes a mortal blow to citrus groves in Florida, some growers are responding by planting olives. The resilience and drive of farmers and ranchers to not give up on agriculture continues to amaze me.

The ramifications of such a move will make California’s fight against the Asian citrus psyllid, the tiny pest that vectors HLB, even more important as Florida citrus acreage declines. That is not my focus, even though I hope to use it to illustrate my point.

Media reports continue to pop up about jobs in agriculture and how the industry may be positioned to do better than other industries for new graduates. One headline suggests people skip the MBA and major in agriculture. Given what farmers and ranchers are up against that may be sage advice.

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University of Idaho agricultural economist Garth Taylor was quoted in an Idaho newspaper saying that while the number of jobs in agriculture continues to decline, those that remain will demand highly skilled people. Translation: jobs with higher starting salaries and greater opportunities for advancement.

Capital investment in agricultural processing in Idaho continues to add jobs and improve the state’s tax base. California could learn a lesson or two from this, but I digress.

Attend any of a number of agricultural meetings across the country and you quickly get a picture that farming is not merely someone with a shovel in the dirt hoping for rain at the right time. Growers employ professional crop advisors (PCA) and others with scientific schooling to help them manage their crops. Agriculture is highly specialized.

Private companies with highly educated personnel offer goods and services to help growers succeed. Certainly there remains a need for good ag researchers with the nation’s land grant institutions to provide independent analysis of various agronomic practices and products. An agronomist recently told me that many of these private firms are currently seeking more people because of the demand to assist growers and sell products.

At another meeting a woman who contracts with growers along California’s Central Coast to help them comply with water regulations suggests a huge need for people qualified to perform water sampling.

Opportunities continue as growers face various needs related to plant diseases, invasive pests, water availability, regulatory compliance, and a growing need to generate replacements for an aging university researcher and PCA community. Moreover, agriculture will continue to need educated people who can articulate these needs to a society many generations removed from production agriculture.

TAGS: Agenda
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