Career Question: Ag Degree or Non-ag Degree?

Recent conflicting reports put careers in agriculture at both ends of the employment spectrum.

by Dani Yokhna
Farmer inspecting vine
Courtesy Stockbyte/Thinkstock
Research out of Georgetown University shows that ag-degree holders have unemployment rates below the national average.

You might have been among the throngs of ag supporters who took a look at The Daily Beast’s “20 Most Useless Degrees” slideshow last year that purported three ag-related degrees (and other degrees related to the industry) were, well, useless. The article judged college degrees based on graduates’ median starting salary, median mid-career salary, expected change in number of jobs from 2008 to 2018, percentage of expected change in number of jobs from 2008 to 2018 and the number of students awarded degrees from 2008 to 2009.

More recently, “Hard Times,” an employment report compiled by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, produces statistics that disagree. Authors Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah and Jeff Strohl found unemployment rates for agriculture-degree holders lower than the current 8.3-percent national average. According to their findings, graduate-degree holders have a 2.4-percent rate of unemployment; experienced college graduates a 3.5-percent rate; and recent college graduates a 7-percent rate.

“According to the Enrollment and Employment Outlook Report in 2008, there was a deficit of 9,317 graduates with agriculture degrees to fill open positions in the U.S.,” says Erika Osmundson, marketing and communications manager for agriculture, food, natural resources and biotechnology human resources website

“Overall, the industry is growing. We have seen more demand for agronomists, researchers and those involved directly with technology as it pertains to agriculture, such as precision-ag specialists. There has also been a demand for skilled trade and two-year degree programs, such as custom applicators and mechanics,” she continues.
In fact, according to’s recently released “2011 U.S. Agribusiness Job Report,” farm-related job postings in the U.S. and Canada found on the website’s database reached more than 43,000 in 2011, an 18-percent increase from the previous year.’s findings are backed up by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, says, “Employment of agricultural and food scientists is expected to grow by 16 percent between 2008 and 2018—faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth will stem primarily from efforts to increase the quantity and quality of food produced for a growing population. Additionally, an increasing awareness about the health effects of certain types of foods and the effects of food production on the environment will give rise to research into the best methods of food production.”

All popular media musings and the BLS statistics aside, there’s no question that agriculture is an industry that will not dwindle.

“People will always need to eat and have clothing and fuel,” Osmundson points out. “As we grow and develop new technologies to streamline one area, a new revelation is being made in another part of the agriculture industry to create new career opportunities for today’s youth to explore.”

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