In 2017, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that roughly 5.9 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sector.

According to the USDA, in Colorado more than 31.8 million acres are dedicated to farm operations around the state and with developments in technology and an increase in educational programming, there are more jobs available than ever within the ag industry.

Whether it’s a career focused on food-animal systems or plant-based jobs, students in Colorado are quickly learning that these days Old MacDonald doesn’t just have a farm.

See more: Agricultural Degree Programs Help Students Find Their Niche

A Hands-On Approach

The Colorado education system does an exceptional job of preparing the next generation
of ag employees.

“The agricultural industry touches every corner of Colorado, whether big city or small town,
and jobs created by agricultural industries play an essential role in the economy of the area,” says Addy Elliot, assistant dean of academic advising and student success at Colorado State University (CSU). “The variety of jobs in agriculture is as diverse as agriculture itself.”

Photo credit: Addy Elliott

At CSU, students can choose from several different paths and take a hands-on approach to learning, including Ag Adventure Days for students in the College of Ag. The annual event hosts more than 3,000 third graders from the local district and allows undergraduate students to lead activities that show them the wide scope of ag careers.

Some of these jobs include managing a community garden, serving as an equine therapist
or studying market trends and consumer behaviors to determine stock of produce at grocery stores.

These educational programs play an integral part in preparing students for the future and oftentimes allow them to explore areas in the field they wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

See more: Agricultural Education Grows High-Tech Careers in Oklahoma

“The examples provided during a class or for a project were always a practical application to the ‘real world,’” says Leslie Mendez, a statistician with the USDA-NASS, speaking about her educational background. “Since I paired my animal sciences degree to an ag business degree, I was able to see the application to both sides of agriculture.”

Photo credit: Addy Elliott

Turning It Up a Degree

Though practical application is important, pursuing higher education can also offer students a good bang for their buck.

“Choosing to complete a degree program provides graduates with a strong network of fellow alumni, industry partners and stakeholders who are passionate about agriculture and resource sustainability,” Elliott says.

Photo credit: Leslie Mendez

Application of these lessons extends beyond the classroom and there is practically no limit
on what those who pursue a career in agriculture can achieve. “The biggest lesson for me was how beneficial it was to be involved in school,” explains Mendez, a CSU graduate. “I did not grow up on a farm or have that background, but being able to take advantage of these opportunities gave me the experience and exposure I needed to learn the hands-on aspect of agriculture.”

Ag for All

Colorado leads the pack when it comes to setting both students and employers up for success.

Through the state’s Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Workforce Development Program provides incentives for agricultural businesses, including farmers and ranchers, to hire interns. With the goal of providing hands-on education to students interested in
a prospective career, the program allows qualified businesses to be reimbursed up to 50% of the cost for hiring interns.

Matt Camper and Addy Elliott; Photo credit: Addy Elliott

Fortunately for those in Colorado, opportunities in ag abound.

“Agricultural career opportunities in Colorado are almost as diverse and abundant as the different landscapes of our state,” Elliott says. “The industry is growing in breadth and depth and I believe this will continue.”

See more: These Ag Jobs Include Careers Far Beyond Farming

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