Agriculture Careers Outlook
Employment in the agricultural industry is expected to decline through 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Overproduction, increasing productivity, and industry consolidation have reduced opportunities in the industry—especially for self-employed farmers. Opportunities for agricultural managers, farm workers, and graders and sorters will be slightly better. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that several trends should help farmers and other specialized workers in this industry. Some farmers are prospering by focusing on growing specialty crops, participating in farmer-owned and -operated cooperatives, or switching to all-organic farming practices in response to public fears about the effects of pesticides and fertilizers used in traditional agriculture. Fish farming and aquaculture will also become more important and more profitable in the next decade. Growth in aquaculture is spurred by declining ocean catches due to overfishing and the growing demand for seafood items, such as shrimp, salmon, and catfish.
Another important development in agriculture involves methods of processing grains to make new products and helping farmers to deal with crop surpluses. In many agriculture-based states, adding value to agricultural products is the largest creator of wealth and jobs. The pursuit of new uses for farm crops will provide many jobs for those involved in processing and will also provide farmers with new markets for their crops. For example, corn is used for ethanol, sweeteners, feed products, corn oil, and lactic acid. Studies are underway that will expand corn’s uses to include adhesives, paper and packaging, nonprescription medical products, and even plastic.
Food safety is an important issue that will impact jobs for food scientists, agricultural scientists, and inspectors. Recent outbreaks of mad cow disease and foot-and-mouth disease in livestock in Europe have prompted heightened efforts to detect and prevent these problems in the United States. There are also concerns about the West Nile virus, anthrax, E. coli bacteria in livestock and meat products, and residual pesticides in plant products. Efforts are also being made to protect this industry from agri-terrorism.
Genetic engineering in both plant and animal agriculture is being hotly debated in the agricultural and political communities, as well as among consumers. Some proponents of genetic engineering believe that engineering crops and livestock to be more resistant to disease, insects, and other problems and to have longer shelf lives will greatly benefit farmers. However, the effects of genetic engineering on the environment and on humans, as well as the long-term effects on the agricultural products themselves, have not yet been determined. Research, experimentation, and debate are likely to continue well into the 21st century.
Some analysts are predicting that farmers of the future may earn more income by dealing in renewable energy, particularly selling wind power. There are also possibilities for ethanol, biodiesel, and the generation of electricity from the methane produced by livestock feeding operations.
More diverse career opportunities are available for those with advanced degrees in agriculture-related fields. Agricultural scientists, agribusiness professionals, and equipment technicians will see their jobs expand to involve high-tech methods of conservation, planting, tilling, and treating farm crops.
Farm managers and operators will need extensive understanding of new farming methods and equipment as well as computer-aided operations. In the past, fields were treated as if every acre had the same needs; scientists and farmers have discovered that the soil and plants are better treated as individually as possible. Precision farming through computers, satellites, and sensors treats each acre of soil and each plant for its own specific needs. With computers in tractors, farmers are able to determine exactly how much fertilizer, herbicide, etc., is needed by the soil and plants. Farmers can then treat the soil and plants with even more effective fertilizers and pesticides, and their genetically engineered crops will be more resistant to drought and disease.
Careers in Agriculture:
- Agribusiness Technicians
- Agricultural Consultants
- Agricultural Equipment Technicians
- Agricultural Pilots
- Agricultural Scientists
- Animal Breeders and Technicians
- Dairy Products Manufacturing Workers
- Farm Crop Production Technicians
- Farm Equipment Mechanics
- Grain Merchants
- Horticultural Technicians
- Range Managers
- Soil Conservationists and Technicians
- Soil Scientists