Speculation about the future of agricultural jobs has been pervasive with the recent announcements of mergers and acquisitions. As the parent companies of the big companies in the crop protection and seed businesses cut jobs by the thousands (Dow, DuPont, Monsanto), the questions is how will this impact the job availability for new college grads planning to enter the agricultural field.
All the talk in recent years has been about the lack of employees trained to enter agricultural jobs from crop consulting to research and development of new products. Colleges have been gearing up new programs, trying to convince non-ag background high school students to attend college for an agricultural degree with the reward dangled in front of them of a high paying job waiting for them at graduation.
Examples continue to come in. A University of Wisconsin news release this week noted its new offering of a master’s degree in biotechnology, which has been a need to fill in agricultural companies. As the announcement noted, “As biological technologies penetrate ever more broadly across the economy, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is preparing adult students to capitalize on the trend through a career-changing master’s degree in biotechnology.” It is a four semester evening and weekend classes program.
Ag companies making layoffs aren’t ready as yet to explain if a majority of the layoffs are coming from non-ag degree job holders or up and down the agricultural divisions’ operating units. For example, Dow responded with an answer that provides little insight, and the other companies aren’t saying anything more conclusive.
“It is important to remember the megatrends of a hungry world remain in place, which means all companies in this space will need a bright, educated workforce with passion for finding agricultural answers. The agreement between DuPont and Dow will bring together two powerful innovation leaders in a transaction that will create strong, focused businesses with enhanced global scale and product portfolios, focused capital allocation and differentiated growth strategies,” wrote Kenda Resler Friend, external communications/media relations leader at Dow.
Jobs at the local ag retailer level are still available, especially for those with training in aspects of precision agriculture. The question many are asking is how many precision ag jobs are going to be available at the manufacturer level since nearly everyone expects a shake-out similar to what happened in the Silicon Valley .com businesses years ago. There seems to be too many precision ag companies with similar competitive offerings.
Ag jobs will need to be filled going forward, but even with the emphasis on producing food to feed the world, I question if every ag degree grad in the next couple years will be able to compare job offers from multiple suitors.