Ag Jobs Deemed Critical

Obama Administration Seeks to Advance Diversity of Ag Workforce

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The Obama administration on Thursday said the number of students graduating with degrees in agricultural fields is not meeting industry demand. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- The Obama administration rolled out a new initiative with several major agribusinesses on Thursday to increase the agricultural workforce and make it more diverse.

While agriculture and related industries involve nearly 10% of all U.S. jobs, the White House stated Thursday that "the number of students graduating with degrees in agricultural fields is not meeting industry demand." Further, greater investment is needed in agricultural education to attract a more diverse mix of students. Such efforts are needed to keep pace with innovation in the industry, the administration stated.

"Falling behind in agriculture is a threat to national security and must be addressed as such," stated a White House fact sheet.

The demand for more agricultural professionals will come partially as companies continue to both expand and innovate. Another major driver for agricultural education and career development is to help replace the wave of older professionals in agriculture who are reaching retirement age. USDA, for instance, anticipates thousands of job openings in its science and technology fields as baby boomers increasingly approach retirement.

USDA announced more government and private-sector efforts to boost college programs, fellowships, internships and job recruitment at several major agricultural employers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted that agricultural jobs required more education in the STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The secretary cited a report by Purdue University and USDA's National Institute of Food showing that more than 22,000 jobs in agriculture and related fields could go unfilled annually over the next three-plus years.

"This is a great opportunity for smart, young people to start careers in a field that addresses some of the world's most pressing challenges," Vilsack said.

The White House Rural Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy joined forces to pull together various efforts to tout agricultural careers in what they dubbed the "America the Bountiful" initiatives.

Among some of the efforts highlighted:

-- USDA also has joined Archer Daniels Midland and 45 other companies, universities and government agencies to create the Agriculture Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable. The group will work on a three-year plan to increase the talent pool of people for agricultural careers.

-- The National FFA Organization has partnered with Discovery Education and to create another website, AgExplorer is a resource tool to help students understand various careers in agriculture -- roughly 235 or so listed -- as well as links to job openings.

-- Syngenta and the America Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture will work together to improve Syngenta's summer fellowship program to help improve agriculture and science communication.

-- The Algae Foundation, working with the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory, will develop two community college degrees in algae cultivation and biotechnology through online courses and lab exercises.

-- CHS Foundation, DuPont Pioneer and Growth Energy -- working with FFA -- pledged $625,000 to support the National Teach Ag Campaign's efforts to recruit and retain high-quality and diverse agriculture teachers.

-- Dow AgroSciences will implement STEM outreach at more than 80% of all of its U.S. field stations by 2020. Dow also will add an educator training opportunity through its Science Ambassadors.

-- USDA announced more support for the 1890 program to boost a scholarship program at 19 historically black colleges and universities. Several individual USDA agencies also announced new programs for people working on advanced degrees in agricultural fields.

Other initiatives highlighted expansions of various university programs and partnerships. More details can found at…

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Chris Clayton