Help Wanted

I remember it like it was yesterday. That moment when I realized that I wanted to be a journalist, inspired by the passion and energy of a single high school journalism teacher.

I always knew I could write, but I could really feel my groove when I got the chance to compile a list of related facts into a narrative. Nothing felt better than nailing a good story.

Unfortunately, from that day forward through most of my high school and college career, I endured counselor after counselor saying basically the same thing: “You want to do what? There’s no future in that! Don’t waste your time! You could make (fill in the blank with attractive high five-figure salary) a year right out of college if you go into engineering/computer programming/business management.”

What I think is most interesting about my experience is how it contrasts with what’s going on with agriculture today. Back in 1981, my counselor liked to pull out Newsweek and Time articles predicting top jobs of the future. “One day everyone will have a computer in their home! Businesses will come to rely on computers to run their operations! Computer programmers and engineers will be in demand for decades!”

Honestly, my counselor could have promised me a mansion, a perfect wife and a BMW and I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near the fields he was trying to sell me. But he was pushing the long-term future of these fields, and pushing them hard.

What about agriculture? Given the potential in this industry, why isn’t every high school counselor from the borroughs of New York to the ‘burbs of Orange County selling the career potential of agriculture as hard as they possibly can?

All the elements are there, and more. First and foremost, we’re talking about feeding the world, or helping develop products and technologies that feed the world. Second, the websites, television and print media have been inundated with discussions about the impending population boom (over 9 billion mouths to feed by 2050) and hand-wringing about how we’re going to feed them all.

So there’s two solid pillars to build on — a noble profession and substantial long term growth potential. Add the myriad ways individuals can participate in ag, from farming through retailing and advising all the way up to developing products and practices in businesses and universities, and there’s a lot of appeal.

Why couldn’t a career in agriculture be to the 21st century what a career in computer programming, engineering and business management was when I was in school?

I was sitting in on a session at the 10th International Conference on Precision Agriculture (cool technology to play with … yet another notch for agriculture) in July, and there were many discussions lamenting the lack of qualified agronomists available to hire. Agronomy is going to be a key component, paired with improved biotech crops, to reaching the yield we need to feed those 9 billion people.

We need to capture the imagination of more young people about a career in agriculture, both in rural America and in the cities. Talk not just about the benefits of agriculture, but the rewards of a career in agriculture.

As for me, I have a few former guidance counselors to call …

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