According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there will be an average of 57,900 new jobs in the agriculture industry each year between 2015 and 2020, but U.S. agricultural colleges will produce only 35,400 new graduates. That means there will be a deficit of more than 22,500 qualified graduates in an industry that is trying to tackle a looming global problem –– how to feed a world population predicted to reach 10 billion by the year 2050.

Addie Stone poses with signage from the TEDx Talk Series

Addie Stone, a senior undergraduate agribusiness major, delivered a speech for the TEDx Talk series.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Addie Stone, a senior undergraduate agribusiness major from Dallas, thinks a lot about these numbers and wants students in other academic colleges and majors to know there are strong career opportunities in the agriculture industry for people from all walks of life and skill sets.

Stone advanced this idea in a speech she delivered called “Why you should have a hand in American agriculture” as part of the TEDx Talk series which came to Clemson last March. The speech was recently posted on the TEDx Talk YouTube channel for an audience of 21.3 million subscribers. She spoke on the booming state of the U.S. agriculture industry, why the industry should search for talent in non-traditional places, and how careers in agriculture are both rewarding and multifaceted.

“By 2050, there will be roughly 9.8 billion hungry mouths on this earth. In order to feed all of them, between now and then we’ll need to produce more food than we have in the entire history of agriculture. We can’t rely on the wisdom of the past to solve the unknown problems of the future,” said Stone.

Stone believes that American agriculture would benefit significantly from greater diversity, and that the way to achieve this is through educating Americans with non-agricultural backgrounds on what the industry is truly about, addressing misconceptions as part of the process.

“Agriculture is an industry –– and, like other industries, it has plenty of problems to solve,” said Stone. “However, the average American farmer is a 58-year-old white male, and homogeneity is not the fastest route for solutions. We must make agriculture more accessible and appealing so that more people will choose to dedicate their unique talents and skill sets to solve significant global problems.”

Stone highlighted that people pursuing careers in agriculture have the opportunity to work on problems of global scale. They may find themselves figuring out how to implement foreign food trade agreements, enhancing food security by creating more nutritious crops, or tackling global food supply challenges.

Stone came to Clemson from the city of Dallas with little exposure to much beyond the urban landscape of her hometown. Stone urges other students who, like her, have never lived on farms, to follow her lead in pursuing careers in agriculture for the betterment of the industry as a whole.

“The more people that are involved from non-agriculture backgrounds and a variety of growing regions, the better the solutions to agricultural problems. Diversity in the industry brings about more ideas and more innovative approaches towards finding the best solutions,” said Stone.

Stone wants people, and prospective students especially, to know that the agriculture industry extends far beyond cultivation and farming alone. This message is evident through the Clemson University’s College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences’ (CAFLS) wide variety of majors and extensive experiential opportunities for students. Although initially drawn to CAFLS due to her passion for the outdoors and hands-on learning, Stone came to find out during her studies at Clemson that the industry has much more to it than farming alone.

“When I came to CAFLS, I thought that my end career would be in farm management, but I came to realize that the industry is so much more than that,” said Stone. “Classes and opportunities in CAFLS cover everything from commodity trading, to agriculture lending to agriculture engineering. It’s so much broader than most people realize.”

CAFLS Dean Keith Belli agrees. In a Feb. 4, 2019 interview, Belli said, “The fact is that there are a lot of different disciplines that go into creating food and fiber and managing our natural resources. For example, there’s a high degree of technological skill involved, like drones and sensors and global positioning systems. Even operating a tractor isn’t the same as it used to be. Modern farm equipment can be programmed for precision agriculture so it will apply a precise amount of fertilizer or pesticide or water exactly where it needs to be. What that means for our students is that the areas of study in CAFLS and career opportunities for our students are extremely broad. There are agricultural economists, geneticists, statisticians, biologists and engineers. There are even agricultural communicators. You name the discipline and you’ll find a version, usually an applied version, within CAFLS.”

Clemson University students might not know it, but they are attending a special type of university designated as a “land-grant.” Land-grant colleges were created by an act of congress in 1890 for the express purpose of making higher education accessible to the working class and extending the resources of the university beyond campus to all the citizens of the state. Before the Morrill Land Grant Colleges Act, higher education was only available to the gentry.

Clemson, specifically, was created in 1889 by founder Thomas Green Clemson to help lift South Carolina citizens out of poverty by teaching the agricultural sciences.

“Land-grant colleges play an important role in solving problems and creating prosperity through teaching, research and Extension, and CAFLS is the beating heart of Clemson’s land-grant mission,” Belli said in his interview.

The outlook for agriculture-related jobs is extremely favorable and CAFLS students consistently find themselves in high-demand in various niche markets. Last month, the college held its very own career fair, hosting 84 diverse and innovative companies.

Clemson students, specifically, are highly sought out in the agriculture job market. The top-notch education they receive through CAFLS is reflected in the passionate and meaningful contributions they make to the workforce. Many of the top agricultural employers are quick to speak highly of students coming out of CAFLS:

“Campbell Soup loves to recruit at Clemson from CAFLS department for research and development positions. The students are well equipped with foundational knowledge that allows them to quickly come onboard and contribute to projects,” said Amy Clarke, product development scientist at Campbell Soup Company. “Every Clemson student we have recruited has a good work ethic, strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as positive attitudes and ability to work well independently and cross functionally,” she said.

CAFLS students benefit from rigorous classroom and experiential learning opportunities across diverse fields. South Carolina benefits from the extensive research CAFLS contributes to support the state’s $42 billion agribusiness and natural resources industry. The world benefits from CAFLS discoveries that help sustainably feed a growing global population and conserve natural resources for future generations. CAFLS students are equipped with the resources to make a difference for families and youth both within the state and on a global scale.