January 2014
Youth Matters

For a Career with Growth Prospects – Get Yourself an Agricultural Degree

Nikki Little of Bankston wants to be involved in agriculture by financing people in rural areas. She is also a great advocate for agriculture through the use of social media.  

With the world’s population expected to be at 9 billion people by the year 2050, there is not going to be a shortage of mouths to feed. In fact, the question is who is going to feed them and how? The next generation of agriculturalists is stepping up to the plate in a variety of fashions.

A story by CNBC has recently been circulated on the Internet quoting investor Jim Rogers, who claims students should "Skip the MBA, get an agriculture degree." Some in the business world are baffled by this idea and those in agriculture are nodding their heads.

Rogers’ reasoning behind his belief is that the finance industry is about to slip into secular decline. Rogers believes the center of our economy will not be finance in the upcoming years but production of real goods.

Majors in agriculture almost always lead to a job upon graduation, and many of Auburn’s agriculture programs have 100 percent job placement as do other schools offering agricultural programs. The starting pay is also typically higher than most entry-level positions in other industries.

What many students do not realize is a degree in agriculture does not mean you will be out in a field wearing overalls and playing in the dirt. In fact, most will not.

Take Abbie Adcock, for example, who grew up on her family’s poultry farm in Woodville. She is studying poultry science and is on the production track at Auburn, but is interested more in the quality assurance, marketing or sales aspect of the industry. Adcock wants to ensure consumers have a safe product they want to buy.

Mark Phillips, who has a desire to return home to the farm, works for a farmer in the Auburn community. During the fall he balances his time between the classroom and field.  

Joshua Carter of Prattville is a senior who last fall changed his major from pre-med in the College of Sciences and Mathematics to agronomy and soils in the College of Agriculture at Auburn.

"I came to Auburn wanting to make a difference in the world by studying diseases of humans and pursuing a pre-med degree, but now I’m learning about diseases of plants and the importance of agricultural science," Carter said. "What I’ve discovered is that this is a vitally important applied science with far-reaching and profound effects on human health."

Nikki Little, a senior in agricultural economics, wants to help finance people in rural areas. She has applied to the Financial Planning Program at the University of Alabama.

"This graduate program is in line with the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards and after I graduate I will sit for the CFP exam for the CFP certification. I want to be a financial advisor in a rural area and help ordinary people plan out their retirements, and children and grandchildren’s education," Little explained.

The common misconception is that if you are studying agriculture you will become a farmer - that is not typically true. There are some students studying agriculture who will actually be involved in production agriculture.

Mark Phillips of Headland is a senior in agronomy. He grew up around farms of his grandparents and uncle. From an early age, he had an interest in farming and knew it was what he wanted to do.

Phillips did not have any intentions of going to college, but after pressure from his family he went to Auburn and started in biosystems engineering. After two semesters, he decided he wanted to be closer to the production side of the industry and changed to agronomy and soils.

Although he is away from his family’s farm, Phillips has gained valuable experience working with Robert Miller on his farm in the Loachapoka area.

"What I am learning in the classroom transfers to knowledge I can use in the field," Phillips said. "They just about have to pull me off the tractor when it is time for me to go to class. I’m hoping to be able to farm full time one day."

James Robert Parnell of Stanton also plans to return to his family’s farm upon graduation.

"I’m planning on going back home and running the cattle operation and becoming a partner in our family timber business," Parnell said.

Some graduates with agriculture degrees will return to production agriculture; others will not. However, it will take the combination of both to continue producing the food and fiber to fuel the world.

Today’s young agriculturalists give us hope for the future. In the agriculture industry, there are so many ways to contribute and the next generation is finding ways to make an impact. It will be these young people who have a major part to play in the years to come.

For those trying to decide on a career path, these upperclassmen all share the same sentiment: Choose a degree in agriculture - its degrees are in demand, it’s more than a job, it is a lifestyle, and agriculture presents challenges to be solved.

Do you think jobs in agriculture today look like American Gothic? Think again.

Anna Leigh Peek is a freelance writer from Auburn.