Today is National Agriculture Day, and it is indeed a beautiful day here on the farm. New calves explore the world in the hillside pasture. I’ve seen two bald eagles circle the back pasture recently, thanks to conservation efforts on the Wabash River that brought several of the birds back to the area. One dog lies in front of the house, facing the driveway, to protect us from any intruders, and the other curls up on top of her doghouse, a real-life Snoopy. The barn was quiet this morning, the only sound being music from the radio next to the door.
The barn, fields and livestock of a farm are often the first pictures in mind when thinking about agriculture. But today, when someone is asked what comes to mind when thinking about agriculture today, there can be many answers:
- providing food and shelter for hundreds of millions of people by developing a strain of sorghum resistant to the deadly weed, striga
- designing water purification systems for a community
- building backyard chicken coops in the suburbs
- cultivating green roofs in cities to provide food, aesthetic improvement, stormwater management and more
- starting a vertical farm that uses hydroponics (a system of growing plants without soil) to use space efficiently
- growing cover crops during the winter months to improve the soil and provide nutrients for the next year’s crop
- developing software for planters and tractors that enables farmers to use factors such as soil type to calculate the exact amount of seeds and nutrients needed for a field
- writing and broadcasting stories about agricultural technologies and practices to help farmers make decisions for their operations
The world of agriculture is vast and diverse, and many trained professionals are needed. Agriculture is a sector that will always be hiring, and opportunities stretch far beyond the farm. Less than one percent of the U.S. population farms (although two percent of the population lives on a farm), but the number of people involved in agriculture jumps to 15 percent, when considering the U.S. workforce with careers related to producing, processing and selling agricultural products.
A study from the United States Department of Agriculture and Purdue University estimated that there would be over 54,000 jobs openings in agriculture and natural resources between 2010 and 2015. Most graduates needed to fill those openings were projected to come from colleges of agriculture and life sciences, forestry and natural resources and veterinary medicine. However, the rest would come from related disciplines, such as communications, biological sciences, engineering and more.
The placement numbers are promising as well. Agriculture graduates often have jobs lined up before leaving college. I received a call with a job offer on the first day of my senior year at Purdue. Also, a survey that was published after I graduated in May 2011 showed that, while the overall placement rate for May graduates was 50 percent, the placement for students from the College of Agriculture was 90 percent. That meant 90 percent of my classmates had a job or were enrolled in grad school within six months of graduating.
There is a vast world out there. It needs agriculture.
And agriculture is a great community to be a part of.
This community aspect shines through the National FFA Organization, which provides opportunities for “premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education” and has a membership of over 600,000 across the United States. The organization is guided by the FFA Creed, a five-paragraph statement I learned in my freshman year of high school. I can still recite my favorite paragraphs — not simply because I memorized them for a speaking competition, but because the words express the core of agriculture and those who work in it. Hearing the creed delivered still brings shivers down my spine and tears to my eyes.
The first paragraph reads:
“I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds – achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.”
The challenges that agriculture faces today are many, but through the hard work and dedication of those who are involved in providing food, clothing and shelter to the world, those challenges can be met. The future can look brighter, and better days can come our way.
The final paragraph of the creed reads,
“I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.”
Agriculture has many opportunities beyond the farm gate. Looking toward the future, we’re going to need to be wise with the use of our resources, adapting to change and pursuing opportunities to make the future bright.
Agriculture is more than farming. Agriculture means life.