The economy is difficult, no question about it. But a survey of ag college graduates shows they aren’t feeling the pain nearly as much as their classmates from other disciplines.
A May report from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) shows increasing salary levels among 2009 fall and 2010 spring graduates with agricultural degrees. NIFA expects the demand to continue and even to outpace the supply of new graduates.
The survey, coordinated by Mike Gaul, Iowa State University ag placement officer, took data from graduates in all ag majors at 14 schools across the country. This is the fourth year of the survey and starting salaries have inched higher each year.
“Four years ago, the higher salaries were $35,000 to $37,000 per year. Now we’re seeing a lot of salaries in the lower $40,000 range,” Gaul says. “No matter what the economy does, people still have to eat. I think that is what’s keeping the industry strong.”
Beyond “cows and plows.” Enrollment at the nation’s ag colleges is also increasing. Iowa State’s 3,300 ag undergraduates is a 30-year high, Gaul says. At Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., enrollment increased by 100 students compared to 2009.
“There is a wide range of opportunities,” says Jay Akridge, dean of Purdue’s College of Agriculture. “Our broad focus on the food, agricultural, life and natural resources sciences makes this a great place for students with a wide range of interests.”
Despite what Gaul calls the “cows, plows and sows syndrome,” not every job in agriculture is about production. In fact, the top average starting salary was in the technical and biosystems engineering field, at $47,077 per year. Jobs in this category range from ele-vator management to lab technician. The most popular major appears to be in agriculture business and economics, which saw an average starting salary of $41,422.
NIFA says an average of 54,400 jobs will open annually “for individuals with baccalaureate or higher degrees in food, renewable energy and environmental specialties between 2010 and 2015.” That number is expected to be about 5% higher than the number of candidates graduating from the nation’s ag schools.