CORVALLIS - When Oregon State University hands out diplomas to its 262 agricultural science graduates June 14, the diploma is a ticket to a promising career. Employers are lining up to offer agriculture-related jobs for starting salaries of $30,000 to $50,000 a year.
"We don't have students coming in to say 'I need a job, can you help me?'" said Michael Burke, the associate dean of OSU's College of Agricultural Science. "We have industry coming to us and asking if we have the people they need."
According to employment projections from Purdue University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 2,000 jobs a year go unfilled in agricultural specialties ranging from food science to agriculture sales, for lack of qualified people to hire for them.
The demand is keen for specialists in agriculture economics, marketing, communications, education, products specialists, experts in crop science and the growing area of natural resource conservation and sustainability.
Burke estimated that about 800 jobs in agriculture will open up this year in Oregon.
OSU has beefed up its agriculture program by more than 50 percent in the past seven years to help meet that demand, with about 1,200 undergraduate students now enrolled.
"We've grown about as fast and as far as we can," Burke said. "Even with that growth, we can't fill all the projected demand."
To get the employees they need, multi-national corporations such as food processor giant Harvest States are increasingly subsidizing undergraduate agricultural scholarships, grants and internships in hopes of being first in attracting the best and the brightest of a competitive field of college graduates.
To link OSU graduates with job openings, the university has created a web page where companies can list jobs and interested candidates can scan for internships, and part-time or full-time employment. The URL address for this page is: osu.orst.edu/dept/agric/jobs
The strong job market for experts in agriculture-related fields is expected to continue into the next century, as more farm operations merge with other businesses and the population continues to grow.
About the only kind of employee not in demand in agriculture are farmers themselves, referred to in statistics as production agriculture.
"The production end of agriculture is only about 10 percent," Burke said.