Symposium discusses career opportunities in ag

Managing Editor

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (Nov. 29, 2016) — The shortfall of highly skilled people to fill needed jobs in the agriculture industry is another side of the farm labor coin that doesn’t get as many headlines.
However, it is a real issue as companies and farms meet production demands for a growing population.
To address the issue head on, the ninth class of the LEAD Maryland Foundation fellows organized its Image of Agriculture Symposium around the career opportunities in Maryland agriculture and inspiring students to consider a career in an agricultural field.
A recent study by Purdue University and USDA found of the 58,000 average annual openings for high-skilled agriculture jobs, there will only be 35,400 new U.S. graduates available to fill these jobs.
“We don’t have enough students to fill all the needs we have in agriculture,” Dr. Craig Beyrouty, dean of the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said while giving opening remarks at the symposium. “We need people in all different sectors of agriculture and we need them badly.”
Another study this year by ORC International showed that only 3 percent of college graduates and 9 percent of millennials said they had thought about an ag career, or would consider it.
More than half of respondents said it would be difficult to find jobs in ag, and 76 percent did not think or weren’t sure ag careers paid well.
Through rounds of breakout sessions and panel discussions on the “many faces of agriculture”, the class solicited speakers from various segments of the state’s farming sector to help bridge the information gap for students the next generation of the industry’s leaders and workers.
In the nursery and greenhouse industry, for example, Frederick County nurseryman Steve Black said he sees a lot of opportunity for people starting their career.
Like other segments of agriculture, his industry is continually using more technology to become more efficient and address labor issues and that shift requires skilled people to use it.
“It’s a huge and growing industry and there’s a whole lot of value added and in an industry where there’s value added, there’s more money to pay for better jobs,” Black, who is also president of the Maryland Nursery Landscape and Greenhouse Association, said.
The symposium closed with a panel of Class IX fellows giving there personal experiences on working in agriculture and offering advice to young people considering careers in agriculture.
Fellows didn’t shy away from talking about the challenges they face, whether it’s increasing regulation or generational transitioning, but added where there is passion for farming there’s also opportunity.
“Start small, be patient, learn from your mistakes,” said Matt Taylor, a produce and poultry grower in Caroline County. “You’ll get there.”
Nora Crist said for her deciding to expand her family’s agritourism operation in Howard County it first took some trial and error.
“Trying everything out was the best lesson for me in deciding where I wanted to go,” she said. “I grew up around agriculture a little bit but I also grew up around a lot of people, too. Bringing them together has definitely been rewarding for the most part.”
Asked what advice they might offer their 18-year-old selves considering a career in agriculture, Jamie Tiralla, a Calvert County farmer and ag marketing consultant said she would be encouraging.
“I would say go for it. Whatever it is you want to do you should definitely do that thing,” she said.
Taylor added that it’s the next generation of agriculturalists and leaders who will define how food is raised for decades to come.
“It’s whatever we want to make it,” Taylor said. “We have a big opportunity ahead of us. We can pick the ball up and run with it or we can drop it.”
Eben Marneweck, a freshman at the University of Delaware said he came into the symposium “blind” about the opportunities in agriculture but was intrigued by discussion in the breakout session on horticulture and said he wanted to investigate majoring in that field.
Ashley Brown said she came initially to support her mother, Mary Lou, a Class IX fellow but listening to the day’s speakers helped solidify her desire to work in agriculture.
“I think today really helped me see what I wanted to do,” she said. “I’m not quite sure but I know I have passion for agriculture and want to tell people about it.”