Ashley Bernstein knew nothing about farm life as a child growing up on the East Coast.
Her family has been in Nebraska for some time now, but she was no more exposed to agriculture during her teen years than if she had been living in a borough of New York City.
Ashton Meints, on the other hand, comes from a family that owns a farm just south of Plymouth, Neb. Her dad is a farmer who also happens to sell farm equipment, “so agriculture has been a part of my life since I was really, really young,” she says.
They may come from different backgrounds, but Bernstein and Meints share a bond that is more and more prevalent among college graduates these days: They both have launched careers that are related to agriculture.
High Growth in Ag Jobs
“Agriculture is one of the bright spots where we’re experiencing under-supply and over-demand, and that’s just so counter to where most industries are,” says Dr. Ronnie Green, vice chancellor of the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Lincoln.
“The level of employment – both in terms of availability of jobs and in compensation – is very good,” he adds. “It’s not unheard of for graduates to have four or five job offers. It’s a very good position for young people to be looking at these kinds of professions.”
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one of the nation’s top 10 agriculture universities, according to rankings by U.S. News and World Report, and the school’s agriculture and natural resources college had an enrollment of about 3,100 undergraduate and graduate students in 2012.
“The college has had a guaranteed job placement policy with students for a number of years,” Green says, “and we’ve always fulfilled that. Our placement rates are very high.”
The same can also be said for the range of careers in agriculture. Even though Bernstein had no exposure to farms, she had developed an interest in food science in her early teens. She enrolled in the agriculture college at Nebraska, and graduated in May 2012, immediately finding employment as a research and development technologist with D&D Foods in Omaha. The company produces salad and meat-case foods for Hy-Vee, the Midwest chain of grocery stores.
“Agriculture majors are needed everywhere,” Bernstein says. “I would most definitely advise high school students to go into agriculture. Everybody needs food, and the way the world is changing constantly, we have to keep up with demand as population keeps growing.”
Meints is having a direct influence on students’ possibly choosing a career in agriculture. Also a 2012 graduate of UNL, she began a career in education as an urban agriculture instructor at Omaha Bryan High School. The inner-city school had reintroduced an agriculture program in 2012, nearly 30 years after a previous one had ended, and Meints believes it will make a huge impact.
“I think agriculture is important to everyone,” she says. “No matter what you do or where you are, agriculture is always in your life, especially in Nebraska.
“It’s real important for students to have the experience in high school early on, so it will get their interest and lead them to major in agriculture in college. Omaha has all these ag-related jobs, and these businesses really need people to have some sort of agriculture experience.”
Wide Range of Job Opportunities
In addition to food science and education, careers in agriculture are found in a wide spectrum of the economy. There is great demand for highly skilled employees in farm and ranch production, and agribusiness and financial positions are also hot commodities. Growth is particularly noted in biotechnology and in the genetic improvement industry, and government-related resource management positions are on the increase as well. The need for veterinarian professionals continues to expand. The choices seem endless.
“It used to be that doctors or lawyers were the sexy jobs because of the financial compensation tied to them, but it’s now agriculture,” Green says. “This generation is figuring out that many of the big problems in the world are going to deal with food and fuel and water, and those are the challenges a peaceful world is going to face in their lifetime. A lot of those problems are going to get solved in agriculture. The new sexy jobs – and, frankly, the lucrative ones – are going to be in this area.”