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Ag failing to attract next generation of talent

Land O'Lakes survey shows only 3% of college grads have or would consider career in agriculture.

By 2050, a projected global population of 10 billion people will require a 70% increase in food production. The question is, who will lead the way to find solutions for this demand and ensure that the world's people will be fed?

On National Agriculture Day, the shortage of agricultural talent as well as lingering misperceptions about agricultural careers are of pressing concern to agricultural groups, universities and agriculture and food companies, according to Land O'Lakes Inc.

A recent nationally representative survey conducted by ORC International on behalf of Land O'Lakes shows that there is a startling lack of young people planning to work in the agriculture industry. In fact, only 3% of college graduates and 9% of Millennials surveyed have or would consider a career in agriculture.

When compared to other industries, respondents were least likely to indicate that they have or would consider a career in agriculture — at just 6% of respondents — with the highest career interest being for health care and technology, each at 21%, followed by education at 20% and then 12% each for marketing/sales, finance and manufacturing/engineering, according to the survey.

U.S. Department of Agriculture job reports underscore these findings, showing that more than 20,000 agricultural jobs go unfilled each year. Despite this fact, the majority of survey respondents — 54% — think it is difficult or very difficult for recent college graduates to get a job in agriculture, the Land O'Lakes news release noted.

"We will need to produce more food in the next 40 or 50 years than in the previous 500 years combined," said Lydia Botham, executive director of the Land O'Lakes Foundation. "Our priorities are clear: We must focus on attracting the next generation of ag workers to the highly skilled, well-paid career opportunities. Failing to do so may lead to severe consequences."

According to the survey, 76% of respondents do not think or are not sure if a career in agriculture pays well. This misperception is prevalent across geographies: 85% in the Northeast, 82% in the West and 71% in the Midwest and South. However, 35% of Millennials — significantly more than any other generation — think agricultural careers do pay well — compared with 21% of Generation X and 17% of Baby Boomers — which may be a promising sign for attracting college students to the field.

"People still think you have to wear boots and overalls to work in ag, but modern agriculture has evolved to become one of the most vital and technologically advanced fields there is today, and the career choices are as dynamic as the industry itself — from seed geneticists and soil conservationists to supply chain analysts and economists," Botham said.

To attract new college graduates, Land O'Lakes created the Global Food Challenge — Emerging Leaders for Food Security program to engage future leaders in the challenges and opportunities facing agriculture. The yearlong fellowship program provides selected college students with the opportunity to learn more about global food security and includes travel to Washington, D.C., to better understand policy, to U.S. farms and to smallholder farms in rural Africa. Students are selected from a wide range of educational disciplines, from agronomy and environmental science to nutrition, finance and marketing.

Trey Forsyth, a 2014 emerging leader, believes that programs like the Global Food Challenge will encourage the next generation to get involved in agriculture — and to tackle global hunger. He said his trip with other emerging leaders to meet policy-makers in Washington was a revelation.

"I saw a whole new side of agriculture that I never knew existed, and it was fascinating," Forsyth said. "Now, I'm thinking of pursuing a career in ag policy."

The online survey, conducted Feb. 8-10, 2016, polled a demographically representative U.S. sample of 1,020 adults, comprising 505 men and 515 women 18 years of age and older.

Learn more about the Global Food Challenge and join the conversation at http://foodchallenge.landolakesinc.com.

Land O'Lakes is one of the nation's largest member-owned cooperatives, with operations that span the spectrum from agricultural production to consumer foods. Its agribusiness and food production brands include LAND O LAKES Dairy Foods, Purina Animal Nutrition and WinField Solutions. The company does business in all 50 states and more than 60 countries.

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