Cowboy Journal Fall 2006

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Agricultural Careers: The BIG Picture

by Jen Biser

Looking for a job? Enjoy working with people, large corporations or even national security? Want to be your own boss someday? The Oklahoma State University College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources career services office can help by showing you "the big picture."

Amy Gazaway, CASNR career development coordinator, said the latest projections indicate there will be a surplus of job opportunities available to college graduates compared with the number of applicants qualified for those positions. Gazaway says this visible shortage of agricultural college students presents an excellent opportunity for recent and future graduates to start their careers in a variety of agricultural fields.

On average, projections show 52,000 job opportunities in the agricultural industry will be available each year between 2005 and 2010 for the 49,000 available graduates from agricultural colleges, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service.

USDA and CSREES researchers have divided their projections into four broad categories covering the strongest occupational opportunities for an agricultural career: management and business careers; scientific and engineering careers; agriculture and forestry production careers; and education, communication and government services careers.

"Look at the projections within the industry," Gazaway said. "Look at your own personal interests, values and personality. Then, balance the opportunities with your own specific abilities and needs to find a career field that will suit you."

Management and Business Careers

Defined by the USDA, management and business occupations will account for 46 percent of the 52,000 entry-level jobs in the agricultural industry. With 24,000 annual openings within management and business fields, the top three employment areas are sales and technical services, product value enhancement and business management.

Kim Anderson, an agricultural production and marketing professor in the OSU Department of Agricultural Economics and an extension economist, said he teaches a student how to survive in the real world and how to be successful in these fields.

"What I teach is not how to push a product," Anderson said, "but how to communicate, listen and build relationships while helping to identify [a customer's] needs and wants."

While he teaches the foundation to give each student the confidence to be successful in any job, Anderson's ultimate goal is to teach students how to learn.

Loni Robbins, a consumer lending assistant at Arvest Bank in Fort Smith, Ark., and an agribusiness and finance alumna, said students need to broaden their horizons.

"I had to explain to potential employers and businesses that having an agricultural degree brings the best of both worlds," Robbins said. "From my education, I gained more knowledge in more than just one area."

Robbins encouraged students to find something they are passionate about and to explore internships available through career services early. Do not wait until the senior year, she said.

"Interning gives you the opportunity to see and feel the job," Robbins said, "confirming if it is really what you want to do."

Scientific and Engineering Careers

Accounting for one-fourth of the annual positions in agriculture at 13,000, scientific and engineering careers provide opportunities in the broad fields of genomics and bioinformatics, food quality and nutraceuticals, and environmental quality.

Michael Lorenz, dean of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, said his students have many opportunities available and he introduces them to networking through an array of options. Lorenz said the positions available to Veterinary graduates are more limited compared to those graduates who go for a doctoral degree or residency training in a specialized field.

"The majority of our students, about 80 to 90 percent, graduate to enter into private practice," Lorenz said. "Even with this majority, there is still a rural-area shortage of private practitioners.

"Our goal is to engage our students in a large number of career opportunities through public practice."

Public agencies that need veterinarians include the USDA, Food and Drug Administration, National Institute of Health, public and state health departments, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and pharmaceutical companies.

"There is a huge shortage of applicants in public practitioner careers," Lorenz said.

"We offer business and business management electives to our students to help them with self-management," Lorenz said. "We also introduce them to corporate industry where pet foods and pharmaceuticals are two of the largest employers."

In pharmaceuticals, Lorenz listed the largest employers as Merck and Co. Inc., and Merial Pharmaceutical, along with Pfizer, Fort Dodge and Novartis animal health companies. In pet foods, Hill's Pet Nutrition, Nestlé Purina, Royal Canin and Iams are some of the largest employers.


Agricultural and Forestry Production Careers

A "hot" topic in agricultural sciences and natural resources is maintaining the rigor of the environment and the ecosystem essential to the sustainability of agriculture.

Jeff Hattey, professor in the OSU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said greater environmental challenges have forced farmers and ranchers to be more efficient, producing more food and fiber without increasing inputs.

Positions of specific interest in the future are production careers related to forest ecosystem management, specialty crops and greenspaces.

Hattey said greenspaces are land areas set aside to build connections to the community, much like Boomer Lake in Stillwater and Central Park in New York City. These areas are used to add aesthetics to the urban landscapes. Hattey said a percentage is mandated to be incorporated to control undevelopable areas such as waterways and wetlands.

In addition to adding aesthetical and environmental quality to the landscape, greenspaces also are a part of a larger employment opportunity through natural resource management and environmental planning, two of the largest opportunities, Hattey said.

"We cannot provide enough students in the soil sciences degree to fill the need," Hattey said. "The primary need is students with a bachelor of science degree with an emphasis on land management.

"We need students who are definitely interested in science, want to be out in the field and are looking for a job. Plant and soil sciences is definitely a growth area."


Education, Communication and Government Services Careers

While this category represents the smallest number of projected agricultural job opportunities within the next few years, approximately 7,000 openings are still anticipated each year.

Chandra Orr, OSU alumna and staff writer for the Paint Horse Journal, said she found her job opportunities through networking.

"Getting my name out there by meeting people and making contacts is what worked for me," Orr said. "Interviews, internships and even department listservs can give you a 'heads up' in available opportunities in your field."

Still worried about finding a job after graduation?

Just remember to know yourself and know the CASNR career services staff is available to all students to help each find his or her right direction. You just have to be ready to be a part of the next big picture.


For information regarding the statistics and occupational fields available for agricultural graduates, consult the USDA/ CSREES Web site: