Help is wanted in the produce industry, and now more than ever.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary Kathleen Merrigan and Produce Marketing Association president Bryan Silbermann agree that pursuing is a career in agriculture and the fresh produce industry is far from a useless quest.
A January Yahoo news story headlined “College majors that are useless” listed an agriculture degree as number one on the list.
Speaking on a teleconference to discuss the ongoing need for talent in the produce industry, both Merrigan and Silbermann made a point to refute the assertion and talk about the opportunities in the industry.
Silbermann said the premise of the article was promptly and roundly rejected.
“It is a very narrow view of agriculture that leads to these beliefs, and we know that, as do our members, that expertise in so many fields adds to the economic life blood of our industry,” he said.
“That (story) was so out of touch with the reality of what we know the situation to be,” Merrigan said. “We’re facing a major transition right now with the average age of farmers in their late 50s, and even farmers in their 60s, 70s and even 80s keeping on with their operation.”
Merrigan has visited 27 colleges and universities talking about opportunities in agriculture, she said.
Merrigan noted USDA will also need new employees, with upwards of 50% of the current workforce at the agency expected to retire in the next few years.
Merrigan said often says to students that the produce industry represents one of the greatest areas of opportunity for young people, from small scale local food production and marketing to the large-scale challenges of meeting recommended fruit and vegetable consumption goals in the U.S.
Production agriculture, food safety, marketing, finance and information technology all contribute to fresh produce job growth, Silbermann said.
“That’s why the best and the brightest need opportunities to not only demonstrate leadership but to learn it,” he said.
Merrigan made an appearance at PMA’s Foundation for Industry Talent Emerging Leaders Program March 26-March 28 event at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.
In remarks during the teleconference, Merrigan said there is a need for greater participation of women in agriculture and the produce industry.
Silbermann said the second edition of the Emerging Leaders class, consisting of about 35 produce professionals mostly in the age range of 25 to 35 years old, took part in real world simulations, case studies, group exercises and discussions.