A recent article on Yahoo! stated that three of the top five most useless college degrees are in agriculture, which has farmers and ranchers around the country standing up and speaking out. The article, based on job growth statistics from the Labor Department, claims that jobs in agriculture and horticulture will see significant declines in the next seven years and the increase in animal science jobs doesn’t make up for the fact that the degree is too specific to be useful in any other field.
However, as is artfully explained in this article from the Huffington Post, the statistics tell a slightly different story upon closer examination. One of the stats used in the original Yahoo! article indicates that farm manager jobs will decrease by 64,000 over the next seven years. This is true, but those projected losses refer to the number of self-employed farm producers which will decrease as farms continue to consolidate and make productivity gains from new advances in technology. However, the labor department also says that jobs are expected to increase in that time frame for qualified managers of large consolidated farms and specific farm and ranch niches. Additionally, the average age of a farm manager today is 55, which means there will be opportunities for qualified farm managers as today’s managers start to retire. The futures of the other two agri-majors cited in the Yahoo! article are also more promising than they were portrayed.
At a time when jobs are scarce in almost every field, it makes sense that college students would want to focus their studies on majors that are likely to provide them with employment after graduation. But the importance of agriculture related degrees to our food supply and the food supply that people around the world depend on cannot be overstated. Here in Arizona that is as true as anywhere in the country.
The Arizona agriculture industry provides almost 60,000 jobs, and that doesn’t include the harvest jobs that are only seasonal. The economic impact of Arizona agriculture continues to grow and has kept pace with the overall economic impact of output across the state. According to research from the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Arizona, from 1990 to 2007, the economic output from crop and livestock production grew from $2.7 billion to $4.0 billion. During the same timeframe, total economic impact of output went from $6.3 billion to $10.3 billion.
Arizona agriculture is one of the few industries that exports more than it imports. This means that while our farmers and ranchers are actively providing for and maintaining our local food supply, they are also boosting the state’s economy by bringing money in through exports to other states. Additionally, in Arizona, agriculture is one of the few industries that is looking to hire qualified candidates. For people with a degree in one of the agricultural sciences, managerial level positions may be easier to find than someone who feels the same way as the writer of the Yahoo! article.