For decades, agriculture has faced an uphill battle in the mainstream press. From a growing systematic philosophy that simultaneously romanticizes and condescends about the hard work of farming, to an all-too-frequent sensationalized stream of stories about recalls, animal abuse and labor, agriculture is beyond black eyes and right into eye patches.
A recent online story, inflammatorily titled “College Majors That Are Useless,” made the rounds in the ag world like few I’ve seen in recent memory.
Three of the five majors cited hit really close to home: agriculture (#1), animal science (#4) and horticulture (#5).
That’s pretty grim.
The primary reason for deciding that these three related fields are “useless” as degree paths stems almost entirely from the down economy and the tough industry times we’re all facing. Great efficiencies, fewer positions in farm management and increased cheap international food imports all contribute to a challenging agricultural outlook.
I don’t know if the author noticed, but of the five fields mentioned in the article (including fashion design and theater), only agriculture, animal science and horticulture are essential to human survival. I’m sure fashion design is important to someone (rarely farmers), and theater and the arts are essential to a well-rounded society, but on the priority list of survival needs, food always trumps silk and sonnets.
Not only that, but almost every industry has struggled and continues to do so. And yet, feeding the world is apparently a dying industry in the future.
However, the core issue seems at once condescending, sad and amusing: “If your idea of a good day is getting up with the sun and working till it sets as an agricultural manager, a degree in agriculture might be your calling,” opines the author.
So, hard work is now only a calling. I bet you love hearing that.
That’s probably true, unfortunately. A life in agriculture has long been considered a calling and a lifestyle, not just a job. Accurate or not, that’s the picture painted of farming in America, and in some ways, that’s perfectly fine. It does take a special person to be a farmer. You’ve got to care about the land and your crops, you’ve got to be a businessperson, a weatherperson and a mechanic; and you wear more hats than a 10-headed cowboy.
However, press coverage like this discourages young people from even considering agriculture. You don’t need a college degree to be a farmer, but it certainly helps in this modern age of food production, especially in larger- scale operations.
There’s also something disheartening about huge unemployment numbers while crops rot in the field for want of pickers. One of the unspoken reasons: most modern folks just don’t want to get their hands dirty and do a long day’s work (at a wage that allows their fellow citizens continued access to cheap food, that is).
We’ve demeaned and debased agriculture so much in the last 50 years that for the average suburbanite and urbanite, the idea of picking lettuce or plowing a field is somewhere between cleaning hotel toilets and washing dishes in a busy restaurant – better left to an unseen underclass.
For decades, we’ve taught our children – both indirectly and directly – that these manual labor jobs are beneath them. Look no further than the unharvested fruit and vegetable stories of last fall for evidence, not to mention the depressingly successful 2010 campaign/comedy bit where television comedian Stephen Colbert teamed up with the United Farm Workers of America to invite unemployed and otherwise able-bodied workers to come “take our jobs” (that is, harvest crops). The results of that exercise could only be described as unsurprising.
If this little article’s author has his way, it’ll be slim pickings for field hands and farmworkers who might have the skills to move up and manage the operation, continue the farm and feed the world.
I hope online pundits enjoy trading computer chips for potato chips.
Bob M. Montgomery
The original story is posted here: