CLEMSON — Sarah Nix had a job lined up before graduating Clemson University with a degree from the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences.

Ditto Ali Lefort.

“It kind of blows my mind that this was the only company I interviewed with,” said Lefort, a Clemson resident who quickly found a job as an animal health representative for the pharmaceutical firm Boehringer-Ingelheim two days before receiving her diploma. “And I’ve been promoted quickly so it’s been great.”

Nix made such an impression during a summer internship at the Florida Department of Citrus that the agency hired her as an international marketing manager one month before she graduated from Clemson.

“I’m going to London this month for work,” said Nix, a Spartanburg County native. “There are so many opportunities and I’m learning so much. I love it.”

The agriculture sector is a hot one for careers and for students, who have a renewed interest in the field because of the rising popularity of farmers’ markets, locally grown food, the environment and sustainable living.

“Agriculture is cool again,” said Katie Black, the college’s director of student recruitment.

Students gather at spring commencement.

Students gather at spring commencement.
Image Credit: Clemson University

The college’s enrollment has risen 18 percent over the past five years to around 3,500 students and up more than 50 percent in the past decade. Still, job demand exceeds supply.

“We have the capacity for 100 percent job placement in many of our majors,” Black said. “In fact, there are more opportunities than there are students in these areas.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported in May a wide gap in the number of job openings created annually in the food, agriculture, natural resources and environmental fields in the United States — 57,900 — and the number of graduates in related fields — 35,400. That’s a shortage of 22,500 graduates, according to the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

“Those receiving degrees in agricultural fields can expect to have ample career opportunities,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Not only will those who study agriculture be likely to get well-paying jobs upon graduation, they will also have the satisfaction of working in a field that addresses some of the world’s most pressing challenges. These jobs will only become more important as we continue to develop solutions to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050.”

The report projects almost half of these job opportunities will be in management and business. Another 27 percent will be in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas, according to the USDA report.

The diversity of jobs matches the diversity of majors in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS), which includes agricultural mechanization, agribusiness, animal sciences, biochemistry, food science, genetics, horticulture, packaging science, environmental and natural resources and others.

Ronnie Summers, South Carolina regional president for AgSouth Farm Credit, credited the college’s leaders with responding to the needs of employers in the state, pointing to the addition of an agribusiness major, a robust internship program and an educational focus on practical skills in agriculture, not just theory.

“I’ve enjoyed a great relationship with CAFLS for the last 10 years,” Summers said. “I like the fact that Clemson is responsive to what you point out to them.”