Report: Demand for agriculture graduates increasing

A report from Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that demand for college graduates with agriculture-related degrees is rising.

According to the study, there are an estimated 57,900 new jobs in the areas of agriculture, environment, food and related fields. The report also found that there is an average of 35,400 new graduates in these fields.

The results of the report indicate that this demand will only rise within the next decade.

Dr. Steve Blank, head of Virginia Tech’s Department of Agriculture and Applied Economic, noted that this demand and rise in need is especially evident across the state.

“Agriculture in general, to be competitive, requires higher levels of skills than ever before,” Blank said, noting a “continuous increase” in demand from his department.

Blank said his department “has nearly doubled” in the amount of students in the major within the last three years.

“In particular, agribusiness-type markets have to compete globally,” he said.

Blank said he believes another driver for this increased demand is an increased reliance on technology in agriculture, especially pertaining to transportation and storage.

“It’s now economically possible to transport any commodity, even perishable goods, around the globe,” Blank said. “It’s shrunk the globe and now our local producers … are at least indirectly competing with every other producer in the world.”

Trade has been a point of emphasis for Virginia, as new market opportunities have been opening up for producers of all kinds.

For small and major producers alike, Blank noted that diversification — a common thread in operations everywhere — will be critical to maintain certain levels of competition.

The state, Blank explained, is “atypical” for an agricultural state in that it is “much more diverse than the national average.”

“It’s that diversity that gives Virginia market edge,” Blank said, noting that the state’s mild climate makes this a reality for operations of all sizes.

This has been an approach many producers in the Shenandoah Valley — and across the commonwealth — have taken, partly to avoid the ups and downs the commodity prices and the effects of weather.

“Just in the last couple of years the grain markets for corn, wheat and soybean have gone way up and way down,” Blank said. “That would be a tough roller coaster to ride if that was the only thing your income depended on.”

Aside from Virginia’s diversity, Blank said that, in a global marketplace, “America has still got an edge” with a “remarkably talented and well-educated agribusiness sector.”

Because of this level of skill, Blank said he believes this is why states like Virginia are able to produce a large amount of “high quality products that are in demand.”

“To continue to develop markets of that sort, the people working the agribusiness sector need to continually make use of the skill they’re acquiring in places like Virginia Tech,” Blank said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com