With nearly 58,000 high-skill jobs open annually, agriculture is a hot field for college graduates, according to a report compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University. An average of 35,400 students graduate every year with bachelor’s degrees or higher in agriculture-related fields, which is about 23,000 short of the number needed to meet the demand.
Management and business accounts for about half of the job opportunities in agriculture, according to the report, while more than a quarter are in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas.
A 2016 graduate of South Sumter High School, William Jameson sees the promise in agricultural education and is pursuing a degree in ag operations management. He was active in FFA in high school and served as state president. He’s also been involved in his family’s business, Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery in Lake Panasoffkee.
“What I learned in my ag education classes helped me at the nursery,” Jameson says.
He’s also learned on the job, and has witnessed firsthand how research and advanced technology are put to use on the farm. Brite Leaf is a high-tech operation that is fully enclosed and climate controlled, which protects the plants and trees from the greening disease that has threatened Florida’s citrus industry. The nursery uses automated machines to hydrate the compressed bales of coconut fiber soil and other machines simultaneously provide irrigation and fertigation, or the injection of fertilizers.
“Education has a very important role in the future of agriculture,” Jameson says. “The good jobs are going to require knowledge of science and technology.”
Brady Revels, another graduate of South Sumter, serves as a representative for Elanco Animal Health. Revels grew up in Florida on a diversified agricultural operation. He says the ag education classes provided him with a strong agricultural acumen and other valuable tools for his career.
“The biggest lesson wasn’t in a class or a lesson plan, but the confidence I gained,” Revels says. “I learned how to network and how to work a room.” He adds that being able to give a presentation and run meetings are crucial in his current role.
Interest in Ag is Growing
In Florida, FFA membership is at an all-time high, according to Tim Edwards, an agriscience teacher and FFA advisor at South Sumter. Edwards has been teaching 34 years.
“My favorite thing about being an ag teacher is getting students excited about the agriculture industry,” Edwards says. “It’s great to witness the development and maturity of my students as they progress through our program.”
He says the agriculture education program can be an invaluable resource to aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs, and notes the program is adapting to meet current needs. For example, South Sumter’s curriculum now includes the study of biotechnology and the use of unmanned aerial systems.
“I think students who take a part in all aspects of a good agriculture program have an advantage over other students in the future because of the discipline and work ethic developed through our model of education,” Edwards says.