Jobs in agriculture increasing, interest decreasing

Barns_resizedAccording to new data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) there will be 57,900 annual job openings in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields between 2015 and 2020.

While this may seem like good news for current students and recent college graduates, many in the industry are concerned that interest in the sector has reached an all time low.

“It’s good news for our students and graduates,” Mike Gaul, director of Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said in a recent article. “Nationally, there are not enough agricultural students to meet the demand.”

According to the most recent AG Census, principal operators of farms dropped more than 4% from 2007 to 2012. Add to that, new farmers operating less than five years are down more than 23% in the same time frame.

Linda Bigley, the interim Linn County Iowa State University Extension director, said in the article that the average age of farmers in Iowa is 63, just above the median age of 55.9 years on the national level—older than almost any other occupation. Although data is also showing farmers are working longer than ever before, it is also showing that as these farmers do retire, fewer new farmers are taking up the handle.

This however, is not without reason. Bigley said she believes one of the biggest reasons for lack of new farmers is the high capital cost of the industry, a number that seems to be continually growing especially for young people who do not come from a farming background or have family in the business.

“There are a lot of young people who would like to get into the profession,” she said in the article. But, because farms have gotten bigger over the years, if you look at the stats, it’s very expensive to get into farming it takes some creative arrangements to get started.”

However, Bigley added that there are a lot of ways to cut that cost through state programs. In Iowa for example, the state’s Finance Authority offers beginning farmers a slew of options like low interest loans, tax credits and a leasing program that uses Iowa DNR land. Federal programs also exist through the FDA and are focused on beginner farmers in particular.

If these types of programs help attract new, younger farmers still remains to be seen but school officials in Iowa say to not lose hope yet.

“We’ve seen an uptick in students interested in AG business and production,” Justin Hoehn, a spokesman for Kirkwood Community College, currently the number two, two-year institution in the nation for agriculture graduates, said in the article. “Students see the void that’s there and the opportunity and they move forward with agricultural careers because of that.”

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