Agricultural careers offer bright futures
Author: Linda Breazeale
Students who want to make a difference in the world should consider careers in agriculture.
"Careers in agriculture are as diverse as the farming profession they support," said George Hopper, dean of the Mississippi State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "College degrees are the keys to success in this industry that feeds and clothes the world."
Hopper said preparing students for real-world challenges is a priority for faculty in the nine departments of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
"The agricultural industry has undergone rapid and significant changes in the past few years," Hopper added. "Students need to have the opportunity to study a variety of subjects in order to completely understand this vast and versatile landscape. As new technologies emerge, we implement new curricula to train students in every facet of agriculture and life sciences."
Precision agriculture is one area in which the college is considered a leader. CALS currently offers a precision-agriculture concentration for agricultural engineering majors and is planning an interdisciplinary precision-agriculture certificate program this year.
"Our stakeholders hire the next generation of agricultural leaders, and no doubt students having a solid understanding of precision/decision agriculture will be critical in the agricultural workforce of the future," Hopper said. "We also encourage students to engage in professional experiences while in college to prepare them for their careers."
Hopper said MSU student interns and graduates are highly sought by employers.
"Students can get their foot in the door by seeking work opportunities even before graduation," he added. "It gives employers chances to see their work ethics, communication and leadership skills, and knowledge in their field of study."
Hopper said agricultural career options have expanded in recent decades, and students are coming from a variety of backgrounds.
"We are seeing an increase in urban students who are attracted to the industry, but we still have many students who grew up on farms or in rural areas," he said.
Bolivar County farmer Judd Davis, a 2007 MSU graduate, is not far removed from the college classroom. Likewise, when he was a student, he remained close (in spirit) to the farm.
Davis left his family farm south of Cleveland to study mechanical engineering at MSU. He never intended to pursue a career in agriculture. Today, he said he believes agriculture majors are the key to the future of farming.
"During my first semester at school, I found that I missed the farm too much not to find a way to return," he said. "I changed my major to agribusiness and learned the business side of farming."
As an agricultural business graduate, Davis said he has had much to learn on the agronomic side of farming. He has relied on educational meetings in his county and at the MSU Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville.
"The Extension Service, Farm Bureau, and other agencies and consultants all help me determine what's best for our farm," he said. "Graduation certainly did not mark the end of my agricultural lessons."
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences enrollment has increased annually from 1,409 in fall 2008 to 2,207 in fall 2014. CALS offers 16 undergraduate degrees with 46 concentrations. It is home to the School of Human Sciences and the departments of Agricultural Economics; Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Animal and Dairy Sciences; Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology, and Plant Pathology; Food Science, Nutrition, and Health Promotion; Landscape Architecture; Plant and Soil Sciences; and Poultry Science.
CALS Dean Hopper said each department contains award-winning faculty and students who are recognized across the country and beyond for their research and academic accomplishments.
"The Department of Poultry Science, which is one of only six in the United States, supports Mississippi's largest commodity," Hopper said. "Every single graduate since the program started in 1948 has found a job in the industry. Today, the industry is valued at more than $3 billion in the state."
Hopper said he anticipates enrollment to continue to grow in all areas of agricultural education.