AMES, Iowa -- Employment opportunities for college graduates earning degrees in agriculture and related fields will improve over the next five years, according to a USDA report.

Mike Gaul, career services director for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, was part of the committee that helped prepare the report. The USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Purdue University released the report this month.

"All of us on the committee felt like we've got a great story to tell. Looking ahead, it's great news for students who are in college now and high school students who are looking at potential careers," Gaul said.

The outlook projects that 5 percent more graduates college graduates in agriculture and related academic fields will be needed over the next five years compared to the jobs available from 2005-10.

Retirements among the baby boomer generation are creating more job opportunities for graduates, Gaul said. Other factors include consumer demand for nutritious foods; energy and environmental issues and policies; and global trends in populations, income and food consumption.

The agricultural, food and renewable natural resources sectors of the U.S. economy will generate an estimated 54,400 jobs each year for those with bachelor's or higher degrees in food, renewable energy and environmental specialties between 2010 and 2015, according to the report.

The strongest demand is for graduates in science, technology engineering and mathematics specialties areas related to agriculture, forestry and environmental science. The majority of the new jobs, 74 percent, will be in business and science occupations; 15 percent in agriculture and forestry production; and 11 percent in education, communication and governmental services.

Annually the nation's colleges of agriculture and life sciences, forestry and natural resources and veterinary medicine are expected to supply an average of 29,300 graduates. Consequently, Gaul said many companies and organizations are hiring graduates from related fields to meet the demand.

"Nationally, there's not an overabundance of students coming into agriculture. So the supply and demand are in the student's court," he said.

In Iowa, undergraduate enrollment in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences this fall is expected to increase from last fall when it exceeded 3,000 for the first time in 30 years.

Gaul said the most recent survey of graduates (those earning their bachelor's degrees in fall semester 2008 to summer 2009) found that 98.9 percent were employed, furthering their education or serving in the military. Of those 72.6 percent were employed, an impressive showing considering the economy Gaul said, and 25.9 percent were pursuing veterinary school and graduate education opportunities.

A summary of the report is available online.

SOURCE: Iowa State.