Demand grows for WSU graduates in agriculture, sustainability

Agricultural education students at WSU’s Pullman campus perform a lab experiment on soil, learning skills that they can pass on to future learners. These graduates earn agricultural and sustainability jobs in high demand in the U.S.

Washington State University students developing skills in agricultural sciences can look forward to strong career prospects over the next five years.

WSU graduates in agricultural technology, organic and sustainable agriculture, and agricultural education have been in demand for several years running. Now, the latest employment outlook report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, developed by scientists at Purdue University and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA), predicts that opportunities for new college graduates with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and the environment will continue to grow.

“Nearly every ag-related business, big and small, in our region has one or more of our graduates associated with it,” said Tadd Wheeler, lead instructor and teaching assistant professor in WSU’s Agricultural Technology and Production Management (AgTM) program, which prepares graduates for a variety of roles in modern agriculture.

“There is a demand both regionally and nationally for graduates who are grounded in the fundamentals of modern agriculture, and adaptable to the new technologies that are rapidly enhancing productivity and efficiency,” Wheeler added.

Jobs in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and the environment will increase nearly 3% for college graduates between 2020 and 2025, averaging more than 59,000 openings per year. Job demand is expected to exceed the supply of college graduates in agricultural fields.

High demand for sustainability, technology graduates

“Demand for organic food and other products generally outstrips the supply in the United States, creating job opportunities now and in the future,” said John Reganold, Regents Professor and director of WSU’s Organic and Sustainable Agriculture (OAS) program. “Washington State’s OAS major has a great reputation that helps all of our graduates get jobs.”

These graduates commonly find careers as organic and sustainable farm managers or owners, certification inspectors, food product developers, crop and seed salespersons and marketers, and chefs. Some start their own organic farms or community-supported-agriculture (CSA) business. Others continue to graduate studies in soil science, crop science, agroecology, horticulture, entomology, food science, economics, and viticulture.

Similarly, the latest class of AgTM students secured positions or had job plans in motion at graduation. Roughly half of these graduates return to family farms, while the rest join industry.

“These first jobs may not be where a graduate wants to ultimately live, but in some cases, it’s the foot in the door that opens up the potential for transfer to somewhere that they’d really like to live,” Wheeler said. “Many of those graduates later return to their family farms, enriched with knowledge gained in the industry.”

Nationwide growth in agricultural education

Over the last two years, WSU’s Agricultural Education (AgEd) program saw 95% placement of graduates in school-based agricultural education jobs, and 100% placement in educational careers.

“Nationally, locally, and in almost every state across the country, there are more positions than qualified applicants,” said Anna Warner, assistant professor and lead instructor.

According to the latest National Agricultural Education Supply & Demand Study, the field saw substantial growth over the last two years, adding hundreds of new programs and positions across the country.

“If you’re willing to move, you can find an ag teaching job,” Warner said. “We’ve seen good programs close because we can’t find ag teachers. We want to keep these programs alive.”

While high-school-based agricultural education has historically been a male-dominated profession, the field is changing. Most WSU AgEd graduates are women. Almost all go on to school-based programs, while some enter public-education programs, such as Extension, museums, and botanical gardens.

“If you are passionate about agriculture, and about preparing future generations to be successful, agriculturally literate citizens and employees, this is a great field to enter,” Warner said.

Read the report, Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in Food, Agriculture, Renewable Natural Resources and the Environment, on the Purdue website.