Employment opportunities for college graduates in the U.S. food, agricultural and natural resources system are big and getting bigger.

“We expect slightly more than 52,000 annual job openings for new graduates,” said Mike Gaul, Iowa State University College of Agriculture Career counselor.

About 400 agricultural college students from across middle America tuned in to an exciting future during the recent Agriculture Future of America Leaders Conference in Kansas City.

Only about 32,300 new graduates from U.S. colleges of agriculture and life sciences, forestry and veterinary medicine take jobs in the industry each year. Graduates from other higher education programs such as biological sciences, engineering, business, health sciences, communication and applied technologies fill another 17,000 of these job openings.

Doing the arithmetic on those numbers produces a net shortage of 2,700 jobs each year in American agriculture. So indeed a future in the world of agriculture is bright, especially for students attending agricultural colleges.

Jeremy Nere, AFA scholarship winner from Danube now attending North Dakota State University, attended his first AFA Leaders Conference in early November.

“This was truly a life-changing experience for me. Not only was it an excellent opportunity to learn so much about future possibilities in agriculture but it also provided a quick viewpoint on how things work in the ‘real’ world, and what I need to do to be able to succeed in it,” he said.

The AFA conference provides students three agenda options, depending upon their collegiate schedule. First-year college students do the AFA Track 1 agenda. The Track 1 program is one of personal assessment. It creates an awareness of an individual’s potential while developing a broad base of personal and professional skills.

“In Track 1 I learned how to write a résumé, when and how to get internships and what to do at a career fair. Also I learned the importance of character and positive attitude in the workplace. We had some incredible speakers, both from industry and universities that shared from their own experiences,” Nere said.

John Deere, Pioneer, FCS Financial, CHS and Monsanto were just a few of the companies addressing students in Track 1.

Track 2 zeroes in on communication skills. Sessions include communicating to a non-ag audience, public speaking tips, the role of ethics and relationship skills, even how to dress for success. Speakers were from Cargill, America’s Heartland, Kansas Corn Growers, AgriTalk Publications and Martin/Williams Advertising.

Track 3 deals with change and involves students in their final college year soon to enter into the job world. “We are the future leaders for agriculture and we must ensure that we are prepared for the task,” said Jacob Sukalski, an ag business-ag economics senior at South Dakota State University.

Jacob, and younger brother Andrew, are both AFA scholarship winners. Andrew is a sophomore at SDSU majoring in ag engineering.

Clayton Yeutter, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, reminded the AFA students, “you don’t have to be an Ivy League graduate to be a success in life. It’s performance, not where you went to school, that determines your future in the working world.”

AFA was started in 1996 by R. Crosby Kemper, a Kansas City investment banker. At the Nov. 3 banquet he welcomed participants, “in this room are the best young people in America. I advise you to 1) Get involved in your career, 2) Get involved in your community, and 3) Get involved in politics, because if you don’t, the bad guys will.”

Addressing the world situation of unrest, war and terrorism, Kemper said, “it isn’t life that matters. It’s the courage you bring to life.”

In its 10-year history, AFA has provided 1,000 scholarships and more than $4.1 million of support from sponsoring companies plus more than 120 local communities, which also provide matching funds for each $3,700 AFA scholarship that is awarded.

“AFA now has students enrolled in 70 colleges and universities. But it’s much more than just the scholarships provided. AFA really is identifying the future leaders of American agriculture,” said Russ Weathers, CEO of AFA which is headquartered in Kansas City.

He cited two participating communities with exceptional AFA support. Andrew County, Missouri, so far has sponsored 16 AFA scholars. The Chillicothe, Mo., AFA partnership has generated 22 scholars in the past 10 years.

Minnesota has six 2006 AFA scholars: Brady Gaalswyk of Fairmont; Dan Krueger of Worthington; Jeremy Nere of Danube; Amanda Oliver of St. James; Alexander Petersen of Redwood Falls; and Nick Steuer of Fairmont.

“This AFA conference truly was an incomparable opportunity that I wish more people could experience. I am honored and grateful to my community to have been able to participate,” Nere said.

Major sponsors of AFA are Monsanto, UMB Bank, ADM, Cargill, FCS Foundation, Bunge, CHS Foundation, Sosland Foundation, National Crop Insurance Services, John Deere, Champaign Co. (Ill.) Farm Bureau and Successful Farming.

Trending Video