There’s a national shortage of young agricultural professionals, according to a report released last week that calls for industries and universities to work together to address the gap.

University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences leaders embraced the report’s findings and pledged to continue close relationships with industry leaders who help them identify the skills and training graduates need for career success.

“The report describes with specific statistics what we’ve long heard from our industry partners, that they can’t find enough qualified professionals to fill vital jobs,” said Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources. “The future of Florida’s economy and its 280 agricultural commodities depend upon the quality and quantity of the next generation of leaders we produce.”

The report, released at the World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogue, includes a detailed analysis of enrollment and workforce trends in six agriculture fields: Agricultural Business and Management, Agriculture Mechanization and Engineering, Animal Sciences, Plant and Soil Science, Food Science and Technology, and other life sciences.

The STEM Food & Ag Council, the sponsor of this inaugural report, found that career opportunities in the food and agriculture industries for the next generation will be significant:

  • From January to August 2014, nearly 34,000 people were hired each month.
  • A quarter of workers are at the age of 55 or older, which means job opportunities will grow through workforce attrition.
  • The report analysis projects a 4.9 percent growth in employment opportunities in the next five years, adding 33,100 new jobs in advanced agriculture fields.

Commenting on the findings in the new report, Iowa Lieutenant Governor and STEM Food & Ag Council chair Kim Reynolds said, “We live in a knowledge-based, global economy and it is critical that our students are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century, and that the food and agriculture sector can fill its growing demand for young professionals.”

Dean Elaine Turner said UF’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences keeps its curriculum relevant to the 21st century workplace by listening to stakeholders about industry needs and through individual partnerships such Limagrain’s sponsorship of the new Challenge 2050 certificate program.

Limagrain, one of the world’s largest seed companies, has given CALS a $300,000 donation to help start Challenge 2050, a program that aims to develop human capacity to meet the needs associated with a population projected to exceed 9.6 billion by the year 2050 through innovative teaching methods and connections with industry partners and policy makers.

“Challenge 2050 and our larger curriculum develop students’ analytical thinking, leadership and problem solving skills. With those attributes and a solid grounding in science and technology, our graduates are prepared to contribute to their employers’ bottom lines and to address the grand global challenge of our time,” Turner said. 

The report includes recommendations on closing the human capital gap and provides an annual snapshot of the workforce supply and demand for each of the identified programs.

The full report is available at www.stemconnector.org.