The start of the school year is an exciting time filled with new beginnings. As students across America get ready to head back to class, many are considering which field of study to pursue, asking themselves, How will I repay my student loans? And where can I make a real impact?

For students in search of an industry with growing opportunity and the chance to make a difference each and every day, we suggest taking a strong look at agriculture. Men and women who work in agriculture are helping to meet some of the most critical moral challenges of our time: How will we eradicate hunger? How can we provide enough healthy food to feed a growing global population? How do we preserve the earth’s most precious natural resources for generations to come? The repercussions of these decisions will reach all over the world.

Every year, nearly 60,000 jobs become available in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environmental fields, but only about 35,000 students are expected to graduate with degrees in these fields each year. Almost half of the job opportunities will be in management and business, and more than a quarter will be in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). There are careers in agriculture that didn’t even exist just a few years ago.

We are working to change the widespread perception that a career in agriculture only means being a farmer or rancher, rather than a chemical engineer, quality-assurance technician, commercial trader, economist, logistics expert, or research and development officer. Whatever your interests, there is an exciting career in agriculture for you— even if you didn’t grow up on a farm.

To meet the evolving food, fuel, and fiber needs of a growing global population, the agriculture industry is seeing unprecedented demand for young talent and is embracing diversity like never before. Archer Daniels Midland Company and other large agribusinesses understand that they have much to gain by attracting not just more qualified candidates, but a more diverse pool of qualified candidates. USDA has also made diversity a priority.

Over the past eight years, we’ve worked to transform our culture as a workplace and increase diversity across the department. Today, our staff looks more like the communities we serve, with 27 percent of our workforce comprised of minority employees. In our most senior leadership positions, we have increased non-white representation by 88 percent and the number of women by 38 percent.

To build a culture of inclusivity across the agricultural sector, ADM and USDA have joined forces with 45 other leading companies, government agencies, universities, and nonprofit organizations to form the Agriculture Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable. It’s a testament to the importance of the cause, and the complexity of the challenges facing us, that even fierce competitors have set aside their differences to focus on practical solutions. To diversify our workforces, we need to create broader awareness of agriculture careers, particularly among young people who have little or no prior exposure to agriculture. We also need to ensure that students with the focus and drive can access higher education opportunities, internships, and apprenticeships that lead to jobs in our sector.

And for those who do plan to take over a family farm one day — or those who are interested in getting into farming for the first time — USDA is here to support you, too. We have created an online tool at usda.gov/newfarmers, where farmers just starting out can find USDA programs and resources designed just for them, all in one place, including access to credit and incentives to make crop insurance more accessible to beginning farmers.

On Wednesday, Secretary Vilsack was at Iowa State University for a roundtable with new and beginning farmers, discussing how USDA is supporting the next generation of agricultural producers from all backgrounds.

USDA is making it easier for students from all kinds of communities to find their niche in American agriculture by participating in on-site hiring events at universities across the country. USDA will be at Iowa State for a hiring event on Aug. 24.

Agriculture offers opportunities for those who want great careers, and who want to make a difference. We invite all of them to join us in feeding the world.

By U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Archer Daniels Midland Chief Human Resources Officer Michael D’Ambrose

Published in the Ames (Iowa) Tribune, Thursday, August 18, 2016

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