Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Career Cluster Overview
The agriculture cluster is large and diverse, with careers ranging from the farm to the laboratory to the corporate office. This industry is made up of the farmers who cultivate the land, raise livestock, and grow plants; the businesses that purchase, process, distribute, and transport farm products and farm supplies; and the organizations that supply services to the farmer and the consumer.
Closely related to agriculture are the areas of natural resources and environmental services. Workers in these areas develop, maintain, and manage the natural environment. Among other things, they monitor air quality, test for harmful chemicals in water supplies, enforce state and national laws at parks and preserve lands, and dispose of harmful waste materials.
People who work in these fields have firm knowledge of how everyday life affects the environment and vice versa. Whether they are involved in the business, research, or technical aspects of this field, workers in this area have a deep appreciation for the natural environment.
Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Career Pathways
There are seven career pathways in this cluster: agribusiness systems; animal systems; food products and processing systems; environmental service systems; natural resources systems; plant systems; and power, structural, and technical systems. Each pathway calls for a unique set of skills and competencies.
Agribusiness Systems Career Path
This area deals with the business side of agriculture, including the marketing, financing, and production of agricultural products. Examples of careers in this area include agribusiness technicians and buyers.
Animal Systems Career Path
Workers in this area focus on producing the highest quality meat, poultry, and fish products. They may study an animal’s genetic makeup to produce leaner meat, or they may inspect and grade meat and poultry before it is delivered to a supermarket. Examples of animal systems careers include farmers and animal breeders and technicians.
Environmental Service Systems Career Path
People in this area focus on public health issues by monitoring and fighting pollution to ensuring the safe removal of hazardous wastes. Some careers in this area include air quality engineers and hazardous waste management technicians.
Food Products and Processing Systems Career Path
Food products and processing workers research and develop new sources of food, analyze food content, and store and package food according to government regulations. Examples of careers include food technologist, meat packers, and meat cutters.
Natural Resources Systems Career Path
Careers in natural resources have responsibilities ranging from studying and protecting the natural environment to catching and trapping animals for human consumption. Some natural resources careers include cartographers and fishers.
Plant Systems Career Path
People in the plant systems pathway specialize in the growth and maintenance of plants. They use this knowledge to help others produce high quality, high yield crops. Examples of plant systems careers are botanists and landscapers.
Power, Structural, and Technical Systems Career Path
People in this area apply technical and mechanical knowledge to the field of agriculture. They may repair farm machinery, design ventilation systems for agricultural facilities, or maintain computer databases that are used in agricultural research. Examples of careers in this pathway include agricultural engineers, welders, and welding technicians.
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Exploring Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources
Becoming involved in your local 4-H club or chapter of Future Farmers of America is a great way to gain experience in the agricultural field. You might also volunteer with local groups that sponsor environmental programs such as Adopt-a-Highway or Green Streets. Also, visiting a farm with your school or family provides a great way to see agricultural work firsthand. You may even be able to speak with the farmer or other farm workers to learn more about what they do on a daily basis.
Educational requirements for careers in this area do vary, but many of the careers in the area require at least a bachelor’s degree. Some careers, such as hazardous waste management technicians and welders and welding technicians, may offer on-the-job training and licensing. Advanced positions in food science or agricultural engineering may require a Ph.D.
More diverse career opportunities are available for those with advanced degrees. 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 order to maintain a place in this increasingly difficult segment of the job market.
As is the case with most industries, the fields of agriculture, food, and natural resources are becoming increasingly global in nature. As economies around the world become interdependent, so do the food supply and natural resources of various countries. Having a background in international business, a foreign language, or economics— in addition to knowledge of agriculture and science—can be particularly valuable in this field.
Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Outlook
Employment in the agricultural industry is expected to decline through 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Overproduction, increasing productivity, and fewer farms have reduced opportunities in the industry. But farmers who work with specialty crops, organic farmers, and aquaculturists (fish farmers) should experience good job opportunities in the next decade.
Job opportunities for those involved in food safety should be very good. Recent outbreaks of diseases in European livestock have focused efforts on preventing these problems in the United States. Genetic engineering in both plant and animal agriculture is also a popular subject in the agricultural community. The need for additional research in this area should create more jobs for animal and plant scientists for years to come.
Because of growing concern in the United States and around the world for the future health and survival of the planet, the outlook for natural resources and environmental sciences careers is good. Many nations now have more resources and more interest in finding alternatives to fossil fuels, protecting the ozone layer, putting a stop to habitat and species destruction, and developing methods for conserving water, energy, and other resources. Growth in this type of research should provide many job opportunities.
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