Three agriculture students from the University of Manitoba were in a cheerful mood recently as they attending Keystone Agricultural Producers’ annual convention.
“There are so many jobs out there,” sad Jessi Good, a second year agriculture diploma student, during a coffee break.
The students got a chance to learn more about an industry that offers them more opportunities than almost any other field of study.
None of them seemed to mind sitting through a day of detailed discussions on farm policy matters and debates about arcane agricultural issues. All said they liked hearing about the realities of farming after doing a lot of studying at the university.
However, all three were incensed by a recent article that went viral across North America. It declared agriculture to be number one on the list of “college majors that are useless.”
“That was a joke,” said Riana Voth of Altona, Man., who hopes to work for an agri-retailer when she graduates.
“It made me really angry. It’s so not true. We see businesses fighting to get graduating students to come to their dinners, to be sponsored.”
The article, which was published online in the United States and was then sent far and wide by hyper-connected university students, declared agriculture degrees to be the worst possible choice because the number of farmers and farm managers in the U.S. is declining.
“When schools such as the University of Idaho cut their agriculture programs, you know times are tough for this degree,” said the article, which appeared first on Newsweek’s Daily Beast website.
Agriculture programs and students immediately began pointing out that most agriculture-related jobs aren’t as farmers or farm managers.
“What they don’t realize is the fact that only a very small percentage of students that receive a degree in agriculture, horticulture and animal sciences are looking to become a farm manager or owner-operator,” said a comment on the site from osufarmboy02.
“They miss the fact that agriculture is still one of the most prosperous and largest industries in the world.”
The point hasn’t been lost on prairie agriculture students and their colleges, but Good acknowledged that the message isn’t heard outside of agriculture circles.
“Even (high school teachers) said to me, ‘why are you doing that?’ Everyone thinks you’re going to school to be a farmer. But there’s so much more than that,” said Good.
Agriculture colleges often complain that they don’t have enough graduates to fill all the available jobs, but attracting students has often been the challenge.
Michele Rogalsky, director of the U of M’s School of Agriculture and who was with her students at the KAP convention, hopes this generation of agriculture students can help bridge the urban-rural divide and spread the message that there are lots of opportunities in agriculture for more than farmers.
“We’re really stressing in our course that it’s important to communicate between the rural and the non-rural audience,” said Rogalsky.
For students like Jackie Dudgeon of Morden, Man., coming to KAP allowed her to see the inner workings of an industry she’s keen about.
“We don’t get a lot of news about what producers are dealing with and what some producers here are doing behind the scenes to help other producers,” said Dudgeon.
“It’s interesting to see how the process works and how decisions are made.”
She, like her two classmates, doesn’t want to be a farmer, but hopes to work directly with them as a representative for an agri-retailer.
“I really want to be the type of person who can help the farmer make their crop yield the best it can and be the most profitable it can,” said Dudgeon.
Good has had horses throughout her life but is not from a farm. Still, agriculture seemed like something she wanted to be involved with.
“I’ve been around it my whole life,” said Good, who grew up in Argyle, Man. “I was just interested in going into it and finding out more about it.”