Opinion: clearing up doubts about agricultural degree opportunities

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Opinion: clearing up doubts about agricultural degree opportunities

By Produce Marketing Association president and chief executive officer Bryan Silberman

Great strides are being made to ensure the agricultural sector is a viable choice for a lifelong career with outstanding opportunities – especially in the produce industry. I can’t help but reference the blog posting on Yahoo back in January that cited agriculture as one of the five "useless college majors."  This was promptly declared as false, and I couldn’t agree more.

Knowledge matters

It’s a very narrow view of agriculture which leads to this belief. Expertise in so many fields adds to the economic lifeblood of our industry. It’s not just about farming; it’s about food safety, marketing, finance, information technology, and more. That’s why the best and the brightest need opportunities to not only demonstrate leadership, but to learn it. The ability to effectively market produce today is not only about what you know, but also what you grow. That’s why opportunities like the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent’s Emerging Leaders Program are so critical. Last year we sold out our first graduating class and I’m happy to report the class this year was again full. In fact, the list of people wanting to participate in this program was greater than the space we had - which is a good problem to have. That’s also why we’re going to continue to grow the program in the future.

Agriculture crossroads

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Kathleen Merrigan is in agreement with the PMA as well. She described the blog posting as "out of touch with reality" during a press conference with the PMA discussing the need to attract young professionals to the produce industry.

Merrigan rightly pointed out that the agriculture industry is facing a major transition with the average age of farmers being in their late 50s. She said many farmers in their late 60s, 70s, even 80s, are still keeping on with operations - not so much because of the passion for the work, but more because the potential opportunities aren’t clear to the next generation.

A new generation

In fact, the deputy secretary said she had visited 27 different colleges throughout the U.S. to deliver the message that opportunities are available in the agriculture industry. She went on to point out that 50% of the U.S. Department of Agriculture employees will be eligible for retirement in President Barrack Obama’s first-term, and the government will need to recruit young people for its many food safety programs.

Merrigan said that young people need to think about agriculture as an exciting career path – and the need for those students to think more broadly about agriculture and understand how important it is to everyone is key.

If you’re planning to attend PMA’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim, California, U.S., make time to connect with some of the Emerging Leader Program participants that will be among us, as the class reconvenes for its capstone course. To embrace a future characterized by strong leadership and business success, our industry needs to cultivate the next generation of produce industry leaders and help them understand and connect with the global fresh produce supply chain.


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