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USDA’s Commitment to Develop Food and Agricultural Workforce of the Future

Dr. Ann Bartuska, Deputy Under Secretary for the USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area, speaking at a Workshop at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Dr. Ann Bartuska, Deputy Under Secretary for the USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area, speaking at a Workshop at the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on February 10, 2016. The Workshop brought together stakeholders from universities, government, non-government organizations, and the private sector to discuss growing needs in the agricultural workforce.

Nearly 99% of farms in the United States are family operated, and they account for roughly 90% of agricultural production. With statistics like these, it’s not surprising that many people associate jobs in agriculture with small-town America, farmers and tractors, and corn fields and cattle.

While the importance of farmers cannot be overstated, the diversity of careers available in the agricultural sector is staggering and often underappreciated. According to a 2013 study funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), an average of 57,900 jobs will open every year from 2015 to 2020 and require a bachelor’s degree or higher in food, agriculture, natural resources, or environmental studies. These jobs will include a range of sectors, including management and business; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); food and biomaterials production; and education, communication, and government services.  Strikingly, it is also expected that 39% of positions will go unfilled.

Numbers like these have many people in the agricultural sector scratching their heads in confusion. How can we attract young people into agricultural jobs?

To recruit, educate, and retain the next generation of agricultural professionals, USDA supports numerous educational programs, a few of which include: curricula development for K-12 classrooms; grants to educate young farmers and ranchers; pre- and post-doctoral fellowships that support young scientists; and scholarships dedicated to improving diversity within the agricultural workforce. In addition to these efforts, USDA recognizes that in order to attract young people into careers in agriculture, the stakeholder community must come together to discuss how we communicate about jobs in agriculture.

To initiate this conversation, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently hosted a two-day Workshop that brought together stakeholders from universities, government, non-government organizations, and the private sector to discuss growing needs in the agricultural workforce.  During the meeting, sponsored in part by NIFA, participants brainstormed new ways to excite students about agriculture throughout all levels of education and discussed the needs for novel curricula that provide students with transferrable, high-tech skillsets. By supporting these discussions and others, USDA continues to identify ways to communicate with students that their interests in computer science, big data analysis, drone technologies, genomics, molecular biology, economics, international trade, and others, are perfectly aligned with the needs of the future agricultural workforce.

3 Responses to “USDA’s Commitment to Develop Food and Agricultural Workforce of the Future”

  1. Jen says:

    do you have detailed results by state of jobs that will be created. Interested at looking at this from a workforce development angle.

  2. Ron Kuleck says:

    Very interesting but not surprising when many positions are not advertised in a timely manner and have restrictions on “just who can apply”. Equal opportunity employment generally provides opportunities for all who may be interested as long as education and experience qualification are met. When job opportunities arise and only candidates with certain GS ratings or time in service are considered, many potential candidates are eliminated. “Just an observation”.

  3. Coy M. LaSister says:

    Workforce development in urban communities is a critical need to train our youth to pursue careers in science and technology. Agriculture and food nutrition are careers that are urban youth could go into if our schools and universities provide a pathway into these career and job opportunities. Our non-profit organization is interested in partnering with USDA and our land-grant colleges and universities to developing initiatives for our inner city urban youth to fill these agricultural jobs. Let’s find a way to make this happen.

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