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Agriculture Degrees Rising

Industry Growing Despite Drought

The number of students pursuing agriculture degrees nationwide is on the rise because of the growing need for food, high starting salaries, and the demand for biofuels.

August 16, 2012|Joanna Small | Reporter and Photographer

HOLLISTER, Mo. — No matter how tight the economy or how scarce the jobs there will always be work in the agriculture industry.  Don't let the summer's drought fool you- Ag is a booming business.
 
  The mid-west is home to a multitude of schools with renowned agriculture program and most have had record growth the past few years.  For one smaller, more specialized university it's been a pleasant surprise.

  If you'd asked the teenage Dan Swearengen where he thought he'd be now: "In high school I wanted to be a dentist, then later on I got interested in mathematics so I thought I wanted to be a math teacher."

  Your answer would have been a far cry from this: watching with pride as his students clean the dairy barn in a rain storm.  Swearengen runs the agriculture program at College of the Ozarks, quite an unusual career choice for the kid from Chicago.  But maybe not.

  "It's kind of remarkable to see the number of young people without Ag backgrounds interested in Ag," he tells us.  People like Josh Eidson.

  "I'd rode with my grandpa but I'd never really driven one til I came with C of O."  Yes, the junior Ag major learned to drive a tractor there.  He's part of a growing trend of students, many not born and bred on the farm, getting degrees in agriculture.

  "We're up 35% in our ag enrollment in the last two years," Swearengen tells us.

  Last year a record 146 students were in the agriculture department, making it the third most popular major on campus.

  "Which is really remarkable for a small liberal arts Christian college to have such a thriving ag program," says Swearengen.  He says students are recognizing the opportunity.

  Part of the reason why jobs in the agriculture industry are growing is because the world's population is growing.  By 2050 it's estimated we'll need 70% more food to feed planet Earth.

  "There's around 53,500 jobs available every year to Ag type people," Swearengen explains, and not just running the family farm.
 
  "I'm double majoring with Ag business and vet science so I could do anything from vet assist to work for Cargill, Ag loans, farm and ranch management," senior Ag major Ashton Phillips says.
 
  Then there's teaching; some times childhood dreams are better left just that.
 
  "On July 11th at approximately 4 in the afternoon, I celebrated the completion of my 35th year here," Swearengen concludes with a smile.

  He says there are a number of reasons, in addition to the growing population, that Ag degrees are rising.  The jobs pay upwards of $40,000 to start with, there's now a tremendous demand for biofuels, and commodity and land prices are sky-rocketing.

  Plus agriculture is no longer just plows and cows.  It's also robotics and biology, computer software and GPS.

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