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Since when is feeding the world a "useless" career?

Posted Tuesday, January 24, 2012, at 3:38 PM

Recently, a Yahoo blogger wrote a list of the five "most useless" college degrees in America.

His top five were agriculture, fashion design, theater, animal science and horticulture.

Really? Three of the top five are ag-related?

Apparently he doesn't know (or understand) one of my favorite statistics: Four out of four people eat.

The story has many in the agriculture community in an uproar. Several have written letters and blogs refuting his article.

There is even a new Facebook page: "I Studied Agriculture and I Have a Job." In just a few days more than 4,000 people have added it to the pages they "like."

His article is full of incorrect facts. The truth is, 15 percent of employment opportunities are in agriculture-related fields, 5 percent more than just a few years ago, according to the USDA. Another study showed agriculture has a 7 percent unemployment rate (compared to 13 percent for architecture). Billions of dollars of our nation's economy are driven by the food industry.

Yet the story is still out there for anyone to Google, Bing or yes, even Yahoo.

It seems like another jab at those of who work hard to make sure everyone (no matter their income) has access to affordable food.

With most of our population living in sprawled-out, concrete cities, most people are many generations removed from agriculture. They seldom see working farms and farmers, so few know where their food comes from or how it is produced.

The positive side of that shows how efficient we are at what we do. Today's agriculturalists (with useless degrees or not) are some of the world's brightest and most innovative people we have in America.

And they are going to have to continue to be, if we are going to have enough to eat.

Our world population just hit 7 billion people and is expected to hit 9 billion by 2050. That means a lot of mouths to feed. Those people will also need places to live (more concrete) and more water to drink.

It only puts more pressure on our already decreasing natural resources.

In America, 98 percent of our farms are still family owned. Today's American farmer is able to feed 155 people using fewer resources than ever before. Yet, fewer than 2 percent of Americans farm for a living.

All that is obtained by farmers and scientists (many with agriculture degrees) using their knowledge to do more with less.

Even though statistics show only 17 percent of Americans now live in rural areas, here in Saline County we are blessed with an agriculture economy. Each year more and more of our young college-educated men and women are coming back to our rural area to work in agriculture -- either on family farms or agriculture-related industries.

If you like rural America, then those degrees are certainly not useless.

And they are not useless if you want to continue enjoying the world's most abundant and affordable food supply.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Norman Borlaug, who had one of those so-called "useless degrees," used modern agriculture to save billions of people during the Green Revolution. He promoted fertilizer and hybrid seeds to replace subsistence farming. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

He admitted his approach was not a Utopia, but "a change in the right direction."

He had critics, but his answer to them was simple and true.

"They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."

I won't deny there are some problems with our food system. No doubt in some cases, our food is too processed and too fast, but that happens long after it leaves our local farms.

But that also reminds me of an old adage:

"People with enough to eat have lots of problems. People who don't have enough to eat have only one problem."

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

To be fair, the poor guy who wrote this article is clueless.

He based his findings on the fact that the US Department of Labor's statistics show that the number of jobs available in these three fields is shrinking. Well, two are shrinking, and the other, Animal Science, was projected to only have 500 open jobs nation wide next year.

I didn't get that the gist of the article was that Agriculture was bad.

What I did realize is that with ever bigger and more efficienc equipment, and bigger yeilds, there is less farm labor hours per unit of production all the time.

I reckon as farms get bigger and bigger, and equipment grows, and yeilds increase, there are fewer farmers farming more acres as we go.

Ergo, fewer farm jobs.

Personally, I think agriculture is our biggest and most important industry in the USA. We will no doubt be relied on heavily to help feed those extra 2 billion mouths in the next 30 years or so.

Also, ag products can have a significant impact on our nations economic health with exports helping to balance out all those cell phones, tv's, and sneakers we buy from China.

Anyway, another clueless, city dweller, internet expert, blogger who has no idea what he is really saying should be of no surprise to anyone.

Boneheads with a voice are still boneheads.

-- Posted by Smart Dog on Tue, Jan 24, 2012, at 4:00 PM

Well put, Marcia.

-- Posted by Bob Kennedy on Tue, Jan 24, 2012, at 7:30 PM

Thank you, Marcia! That's exactly what I thought when I read the article!

-- Posted by koeller77 on Wed, Jan 25, 2012, at 2:18 PM


Farm subsidies won't bail anybody out. First, the amount isn't enough for anybody to survive for long. Find a farmer with whom you want to trade your income (whatever it is) for his/her subsidy check. I think most will gladly make the trade with you. Second, subsidies are on their way out as we speak. Dead issue, basically.

-- Posted by Bob Kennedy on Wed, Jan 25, 2012, at 6:55 PM

Perhaps I should have included that in an average year you'll make about $50,000 or $60,000 after taxes.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, farmers pay the extra 10% self employment tax also. And, well, the county taxes the crap out of farm land to support your schools, E911, etc. And yes, our houses are property taxed like yours in town in addition to all of that expensive equipment and livestock.

Like I said, hop on the gravy train, Earl, apparently according to you there's free money flying around everywhere.

-- Posted by Smart Dog on Thu, Jan 26, 2012, at 9:43 AM

If ignorance is bliss, some people must be so happy they can't stand themselves!

TigerBloodGrrrrr; what do you do for a living?

Have you ever had to get up n the middle of the night to care for a calf that momma can't nurse it, or deliver a litter of pigs, get in cattle that decided the grass was greener on the other side of the fence?

Farming is work, brother.

The cost of seed, fuel,and equipment are outrageous. Each year it's a gamble if you are going to make money or not.

Get a clue.

-- Posted by meagain on Fri, Jan 27, 2012, at 9:09 PM

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