Food for Thought: Should students pursue a degree in agriculture even if they are not pursuing an agricultural career?

Graduating high school is an electrifying experience for young adults. It is a milestone that marks the beginning of independence for individuals who are ready to make their mark on the world by pursuing their passions and goals they established throughout their time in high school. However, what may come along with the excitement and exhilaration is anxiety and confusion. Many students start their college endeavors with an undecided major, and they continue to look for direction in deciding on a career pathway. One question I have pondered is when students are still deciding on a career path, is it possible that directing them towards a degree in agriculture can benefit them whether or not they continue to pursue a career in agriculture? Therefore, I believe that many students can find their place in an agricultural major even if they do not choose a pathway in agriculture.

While many agricultural degrees seem like they limit you to having a career in agriculture, this concern is not entirely the case. These majors can range anywhere from engineering to business and communications to economics.

Andrea Rouse, Instructor at Des Moines Area Community College

I discussed this idea with Andrea Rouse, my former Agribusiness professor at DMACC, and she agreed saying, “I think students don’t always know what options are available to them through agriculture. You could do human resources, marketing, legal services, banking, accounting, engineering, pharmaceuticals…the list is endless.”

In these majors, students learn adequate professional and leadership skills to take with them when completing a degree upon graduation. Even when you graduate, it does not necessarily mean you have to have a job in agriculture. For example, many non-ag employers are still willing to hire an individual with an agribusiness degree because the business aspect is still valuable outside of agriculture.

Students who decide to major in an agricultural degree gain more knowledge of the industry, and many consumers are getting curious about where their food comes originates. Andrea commented about her sister at work, “[She] is a pharmacist. There are many times when she educates others in her pharmacy about topics that come up involving agriculture. It’s quite entertaining when people learn she actually has walked beans and baled hay in the past.” Many people who don’t have a background in agriculture may still be curious about the industry, and they may not always realize how it is entwined with their daily lives. I believe this gap can easily be filled when others are learning more about the industry and have the tools to teach others who have questions.

The idea still applies to young adults that are still in high school. They may be developing a passion for politics and society, but they may not know there are agricultural majors that encompass that field as well. In that, they are acquiring knowledge and skills for their future careers while learning more about an industry that feeds and fuels the world.

Do not get me wrong. Not all career pathways will allow you to choose an agricultural major. I understand that it would not be worth a prospective musician or artist to go to school for agriculture. These are options they must weigh out themselves. Furthermore, my goal is also not to poach other industries of their workforce, but I do feel there is a gap that needs to be filled between agriculture and its unknowing consumers. It is an industry that many people overlook when they are discovering their interests. Many Americans only look at it as farming with tractors and livestock. What many people discount are careers in the field that do not involve being on a farm that includes economics, legal work, media, business, and so much more.

We are in a time where there is a significant need for agricultural literacy. Therefore, when high school students are talking with their guidance counselors and discussing their future, why would agricultural majors not be considered as potential degrees when they are still valid in career placement outside of agriculture? With this form of secondary agricultural literacy, students can become more prepared for their future careers while simultaneously and transparently educating them about where their food comes from.

“Having an ag background would give you a leg up on others who might not know the field,” Andrea was quoted about students being more prepared these degrees.  “A degree in agriculture prepares you for a lifetime of success, no matter what you end up doing!”

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