It’s not difficult these days to find stories that paint a gloomy short-term outlook for the agricultural economy. But if a recent career fair at Iowa State University is a barometer, when the clouds part ag’s future will be looking bright.
More than 2,700 students from 76 different majors attended ISU's annual ag career fair, despite the downturned agriculture economy. The career fair even drew students from 19 other universities, including Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma State.
Mike Gaul, director of ISU's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences career services, said it’s still a great opportunity for both students and employers.
“Each of the 262 organizations attending the career fair had at least one internship or full-time job opportunity available. Many had at least a couple of opportunities for the young people pursuing careers in agriculture,” he said. “Young people are always in high demand.”
Logan Lyon, a sales agronomist at East Central Iowa Cooperative, based in the Hudson area, agreed.
“There’s probably no better place to see young people in their top environment,” he said. The company had grain and agronomy internships and full-time employment opportunities available.
Overall, the career fair generated more than 1,000 one-on-one interviews between students and potential employers.
The career fair not only showed that there are jobs available for young people in agriculture; it also showed that there’s more to agriculture than raising livestock or growing crops. The 262 employers at the career fair were involved in everything from communications to drone technology; conservation services to animal breeding; and grain merchandising to horticulture at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
Addie Bidwell, a junior in agronomy, was looking for an agronomy sales internship at this year’s career fair.
“I really like the career fair because it brings everyone together in one place,” she said. “The ag career fair covers all different aspects of agriculture—animal science, agronomy, sakes, seeds, sustainability. It’s not just agronomy or sales. It’s everything outside of those as well.”
USDA expects to see nearly 60,000 average annual openings for graduates with a degree in an agricultural program between 2015 and 2020. However, there are only an average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates annually.
Yes, agriculture is in an economic downturn, but the breadth and depth of opportunities in the field and the growing long-term global demand for ag products produced right here in Iowa (the Global Harvest Initiative estimates we need to double agricultural output by 2050) continue to appeal to our next generation of Iowa workers. Their vision and enthusiasm for agriculture should give all of us hope for a brighter future.
By Bethany Baratta. Bethany is Iowa Farm Bureau's commodities writer.