Bountiful Careers in Agriculture

How four professionals found lucrative opportunities in a growing field

Have you ever considered the effort that goes into preparing your lunch? No, we’re not talking about what happened in the kitchen 20 minutes ago—we mean before that. Before the peppers on your burrito were harvested last spring, an economist had to forecast the quantity of seeds that would be needed to sustain the demand for peppers in Mexican-style restaurants this fall. Ahead of the restaurateur’s decision to serve locally sourced, grass-fed beef in all his entrées, the owner of a family-owned farm hired someone to market and brand that beef to attract retail attention. Before immigrant farm production workers received equitable pay for a hard day’s work, a civil rights attorney with the United States Department of Agriculture studied their complaints and determined if discrimination occurred in the dairy plant that produced your sour cream.

Long before you drank your beer and sighed contentedly, a food scientist calculated the amount of yeast needed for the fermenting process to produce the flavor you’re accustomed to in your favorite brand.

Well, if you hadn’t wondered about that before, I’m sure you hadn’t thought about the myriad jobs involved. The fact is, employment of agricultural and food scientists is expected to increase by 10% from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the USDA expects that some 25,700 jobs  will open up annually for management and business representatives in food systems, renewable energy, and the environment between 2010 and 2015.

These are professional positions that cater to scientists, lawyers, and people with MBAs, with starting salaries above $40,000. But there is a shortfall of candidates with skill sets in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to fill these vacancies. On the next few pages you will meet four young professionals who chose not to ignore the industry but leveraged their knowledge of agriculture and its market demands to fit their professional and business goals.

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