ON National Agriculture Day March 25 — a day to recognize and celebrate the abundance agriculture provides — John Floros, dean of the Kansas State University College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research & Extension, said modern agriculture is not what it used to be.
"Today, only about 1% of the population works at the farm or the ranch to really produce the food that the rest of us consume," Floros said.
Not only are there fewer farmers and ranchers today, but resources are also dwindling at a time when the world population is growing by billions.
Floros said the industry has become very science, technology and business driven. Today's graduates majoring in an agriculture-related field use a combination of physics, chemistry, biology and engineering.
"The way the agricultural system and the food system work today requires a lot of science and technology," Floros said. "It requires a lot of knowledge in order to be able to deal with all the uncertainty and all the risk that a farmer or a rancher has to deal with today."
For example, according to Floros, most of Kansas State's agricultural students come from urban backgrounds and have no knowledge of farming. The demand is so high for these educated agriculturalists that almost 100% of the college's graduates land jobs before or once they graduate.
A study released by the Coalition for a Sustainable Agriculture Workforce (CSAW) found that too few scientists are being trained in agricultural areas of science.
This challenge is all the more critical due to the need to double the current global food supply to meet the needs of a growing population over the next few decades. The agriculture field is also constrained by limited water and arable land availability, climate variation and reduced budgets for research.
The study found that life science and agricultural industry companies anticipate increasing the number of trained scientists they hire over the next several years, but there is growing concern that they will not be able to find suitable candidates for the jobs available, according to the announcement.
The research shows that companies expect to hire more than 1,000 scientist-level employees through 2015, representing 13% of their current agricultural scientist workforce. The largest number of scientists, 84% of the total, are needed in the disciplines of plant sciences, plant breeding/genetics and plant protection. Nearly half of those hired will need doctoral degrees.
Specifically, the CSAW survey aggregated responses from the top six life science companies, including Bayer Crop Science, Dow Agro Sciences, DuPont Pioneer Hi-Bred, DuPont Crop Protection, Monsanto and Syngenta, which represent 97% of the U.S. private sector's scientific workforce in biotechnology, crop protection and seeds.
A summary report as well as the full census are available from CSAW through www.sustainable-ag-workforce.org.
CSAW is a novel partnership of professional scientific societies and agricultural industry leaders formed to promote the education and training of future generations of the agricultural workforce.