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Department of Food Science and Technology


Bumper crop of jobs for ag-school graduates

March 14, 2013

Interest in food — safety, availability, environmental impacts — is on the rise, and as a result, so is the demand for college graduates trained in food-, agricultural- and environmental-science disciplines in Ohio and nationwide.

“Food is in the news,” said Bruce McPheron, the recently appointed dean of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

“It’s organic. It’s local. It’s not local. It’s healthy. It’s part of obesity and diabetes,” McPheron said, ticking off the reasons food makes news.

As a result, student enrollment in agriculture is up at his OSU college and across the nation, said McPheron, who returned to his alma mater late last year after working for a couple of decades at Pennsylvania State University. And employer demand for those graduates is high.

Job search engine SimplyHired reports a 77 percent rise in agricultural job listings since October 2011. Sales representatives, customer-service representatives, sales managers and veterinarians topped the search engine’s February list of top occupations in agriculture.

As a result, nine out of 10 graduates from OSU’s agricultural college get jobs or go on to graduate school within six months of graduating.

“It’s a growth industry,” McPheron said.

Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said 97.6 percent of its recent graduates found jobs or spots in graduate schools. Purdue University’s College of Agriculture’s job or graduate-school placement rate is 86 percent.

The average annual salary of a recent agriculture and natural-resources graduate is $32,000, according to a 2012 report by Georgetown University. An experienced worker earns an average of $50,000, the report states.

Only 5 percent of OSU’s graduates get jobs on farms, said Adam Cahill, career-development, communication and marketing manager for OSU’s agriculture college. So most of today’s agricultural job growth is occurring off the farm — at companies that sell seed, fertilizer, equipment and services to farmers, or that process their food.

Cargill, the food, agriculture and financial products and services giant based in Minneapolis, increasingly is recruiting agriculture graduates from college campuses to build its talent pipeline, spokesman Timothy Loesch said in an email.

At the OSU agriculture college’s recent spring career expo, Cargill was looking for food-science, operations, sales and merchandising workers, Loesch said.

At the career expo, Dot Mowrer was looking for food-science majors to work as laboratory technician interns at Smith Dairy in Orrville. The interns would taste ice cream and other dairy products, among other tasks, Mowrer said.

Jodi Destefanis, human-resources manager for Vizmeg Landscape, wanted to find a handful of summer interns to do lawn maintenance, landscape construction, project management, administration and sales at her Stow-based employer.

“It’s a growing field,” Destefanis said of landscape design and construction. “Everybody is trying to be green” by using environmentally friendly products and practices.

“There are a lot of lucrative jobs you can pursue in the industry,” said Andy Petit, an account manager at Vizmeg who graduated from Ohio State in 2002 with a degree in horticultural science.

Bonnie Norris had internships and jobs to offer at Harvest Land, a Richmond, Ind., grain farming and marketing cooperative that has a large oil and natural-gas division.

“Inner-city students don’t look at agriculture as a career path,” said Norris, an OSU alumna who majored in agricultural communications. “They miss a great opportunity. It’s not just cows and plows.”

Kristen Johnson was interviewing students to be financial-service interns at Farm Credit Mid-America, a growing agricultural lending and crop insurance co-op in Louisville, Ky. “We’re looking to add 100 employees this year,” Johnson said.

Trey Miller, an OSU agricultural business major who graduates in May, interned at Farm Credit Mid-America last summer and will train at the company’s newly built Lancaster office this summer.

“More farmers and agricultural workers are needed to feed the world’s growing population,” Miller said. “One of the biggest drivers in farming is having the money to continue.”

Sarrah Hassel wanted to find summer interns for the innovation department of Mars Petcare U.S. — yes, that’s part of the same company that makes M&M candies — who would help develop pet-care products.

The maker of Pedigree and Whiskas pet food needed food-science majors to come up with new products and test the products with animals, Hassel said.

Meanwhile, Ohio State junior Mara Gordon was helping Land O’Lakes, the Minnesota maker of dairy products, recruit more college interns as an intern herself.

Gordon, an agricultural-business major, will study agricultural economics in the Czech Republic this summer, her third international trip with Agriculture Future of America.

“Ag students are coveted because they have all these opportunities for professional development,” she said.

Unlike most of his classmates, Chris Gehret dreams about being a farmer.

The past state officer for Ohio Future Farmers of America is studying agricultural systems, which he described as the “technical side of agriculture,” including global positioning satellites for crop planting and analysis of soil and water for fertilizer contamination.

Gehret, who grew up on a Mercer County swine and grain farm, said sustainability is a big part of his future. “Farmers have to be good stewards of the environment,” he said.