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Women in Ag: Career Talk Is Needed

I spent part of one afternoon a week or so ago in a classroom at the University of Minnesota with students studying agriculture education and agriculture communications. It’s a spring rite of passage for me – I’ve been part of a panel of agriculture professionals for the past few years, talking to students about careers.

I always get inspired – or perhaps it’s reinspired - at these particular events. The students ask thoughtful questions and tend to be very enthusiastic about agriculture (and their lives beyond college!) so it gives me hope for the future. Plus, they are hungry for knowledge about work life and tips on interviewing, negotiating a salary, office etiquette, and so much more.

It’s also fun to meet the other panelists, who come from other career walks of life – with all of us having agriculture as a common denominator. This year, our panel consisted of a banker, an urban farmer, a couple of us from nonprofit organizations, and the program director for Minnesota’s 4-H program.

It’s clear that career talk is much needed.

A recent study funded by Land O’Lakes shows that only 3% of college graduates surveyed and 9% of millennials (born between 1982 and 2000) said they had thought about an ag career or would consider it. The survey also showed that 54% of respondents believed that it was difficult or very difficult for recent college graduates to find jobs in agriculture, and 76% either did not think or weren't sure that ag careers pay well.

In reality, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that more than 20,000 agriculture jobs go unfilled each year.

This is a serious wake-up call.

So what can we do about it?

Organizations such as the one I work for (Minnesota Turkey Growers Association) have increased their scholarship programs and most recently have partnered with allied vendor companies to offer up some new scholarships. We also work closely with FFA and 4-H to offer learning experiences about poultry, and we attend various career and ag awareness events at both high schools and colleges. In addition, industry conventions and conferences can be a great place to encourage college student involvement as they can network with companies and learn more about all the career opportunities – which include more than managing poultry, livestock, and grain farms. We need to help students make the connection between agriculture and fields such as engineering, food science, marketing, nutrition, technology, communications, veterinary medicine, and so much more.

Individually we can all help, whether it’s by sharing articles about agriculture careers on our social media platforms, talking to classes at your local high school about what you do for a living, or something as simple as having a conversation with someone in church or at the supermarket.

All of this helps, and the future of agriculture and food production depends on it. 

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