Across the Editor’s Desk: What is agriculture?
Yahoo.com drew a strong and emotional reaction from agriculturists recently when it posted a story, “College Majors That Are Useless.” Number 1 useless degree on the list: Agriculture. Number 4: Animal science. Number 5: Horticulture. I can't imagine that advocates for Yahoo.com's useless degree Number 2, fashion design, or Number 3, theatre, could have rapidly reacted with as much fire and passion on the Web in defending ag degrees as members of the ag industry!
One of the frustrations in discussing agriculture is the perception of agriculture. Is it the traditional and narrowly focused work of production agriculture: farming and ranching? Or is it the broader definition of a much bigger industry that includes all of the business and support segments that serve producers and manufacture ag-based products?
I certainly prefer the latter definition of agriculture where jobs are expanding in many segments. Newer segments, such as precision agriculture and crops technology, are creating more jobs than our schools and colleges can fill with educated and skilled workers.
As I visit and tour agribusinesses, I enjoy asking workers about their backgrounds. Many – maybe most – have no farming in their backgrounds at all. I ask how many of them as a senior in high school thought they would be in an ag career. Many say they had no clue.
The number of people needed in production agriculture is not growing significantly. Certainly with an aging population of farmers, new farmers will be needed. And with consumers expanding and diversifying their tastes, the opportunities are greater than ever in production agriculture for new entrants who can market direct to consumers.
The skills and knowledge required of all farmers is demanding. I was reminded of that as I read another Yahoo.com article, “What Are the Most Effective Degrees?” The five cited (starting with Number 1) were business administration, psychology, accounting, information technology, and health care administration. That sounds like just five of many subjects in which you need some knowledge to run a farming business!