Agriculture school enrollment grows across the U.S.

Some people may poke fun at UC Davis for being an agriculture school, but studies show that more and more students across the country are looking into agriculture careers.

According to surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs in agriculture grew by 21.8 percent from 2005 to 2008.

Despite the growing number of students in the field, the number of farms in the United States has been declining for decades. There were about 2.4 million farms in the United States in 1978 and 2.2 million last year, according to the USDA.

In California, however, there is no shortage of farms. The state has 88,000 farms and ranches, and agriculture constitutes a $36.6 billion dollar industry.

This may be one reason UC Davis’ College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences is one of the country’s biggest and most highly ranked agriculture schools. It is also one of the largest undergraduate colleges at UC Davis with 5,490 undergraduates-a jump of 210 since 2008.

“I believe that these particular majors are popular because students are interested in the careers associated with them,” said Neal Van Alfen, dean of UC Davis’ College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

Enrollment in agriculture schools has previously been low because students may have assumed a degree in agriculture meant farming, when in fact it is mostly science related.

Van Alfen said students in this field can find jobs as crop consultants, pest control advisers, beer and wine makers, managers of farming operations, in regulatory agencies and natural resource agencies and more.

“I believe that there would be many more students in a variety of agricultural sciences majors if they understood how many career opportunities there are for students with these majors,” Van Alfen said. “One of the most common discussions within the agricultural industry today is the lack of qualified professionals to fill the job opportunities.”

Marie Bays, a junior agricultural management and rangeland resources major at UC Davis, said people are fairly surprised when she tells them what she is majoring in. But she is passionate about it.

“I chose the agricultural management and rangeland resources major because it is a major that deals with a variety of issues in agriculture, working both with societal issues and the actual application of farming practices,” Bays said. “I have come to better understand the major with each class I take, and I love its focus on rangeland management, something you don’t see very much in California.”

She also said there is a wide range of career options available to someone in her field of study.

“In the school of agriculture, there are so many job opportunities. It is an industry in demand,” Bays said. “The population is growing, therefore the need for food is increasing. I don’t know what I want to go into exactly, but I want to stay involved in agriculture.”

As colleges continue to educate students about the opportunities in agriculture, enrollment at agriculture schools will likely continue to grow.

“I think that young people are recognizing all of the issues that surround our society have to do with food and I think there’s a real interest in new ways of doing things and solving some of these problems,” College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Associate Dean of undergraduate programs Diane Ullman said in a recent Sacramento Bee article.

Bays said an agriculture major is perfect for a possible future career. The major has gained popularity as job opportunities open for graduated agriculture students – the Aggie may not seem like such a strange mascot after all.

SARAH HANSEL can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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