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Good Jobs in the Booming Agriculture Sector

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

College students considering career paths should consider a new report on the contributions of agriculture-related business to the U.S. economy. It tells a compelling and sometimes surprising story. 

The Feeding the Economy report provides impact at the national, state and congressional district levels. The report tells a story which might be different than what one would expect – a story of agriculture supporting a healthy and growing manufacturing sector.  

Let’s look at some highlights.

First, agriculture-related business is a large, resilient and breathtakingly diverse sector. It supports 20 percent of the U.S. economy and reaches far beyond the farm gate into the most urban areas. 

By agriculture-related industry, we are talking about farm, forestry and fishery production, and the extensive chain of businesses which buy, process and sell those products all the way through retail, typically at a grocery store or restaurant. 

It does not include the numerous businesses which support the sector, such as businesses that manufacture or provide farm equipment, refrigeration, food packaging, restaurant supplies, etc. Those businesses are supported by the agribusiness economy.

Second, agriculture-related business probably is not what one would expect. The vast majority of jobs are in wholesale and retail. 

There are about as many Americans working in manufacturing agricultural products as farming. In fact, agriculture manufacturing accounts for almost 20 percent of all American manufacturing jobs, well over twice as many as automobile manufacturing. 

Many of these jobs are highly skilled and very well paid, making widely diverse products. For example, corn refining is an industry of chemical engineering operating large-scale biofermentation units which make inputs for foods, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, industrials – such as the adhesives used in building materials – and, increasingly, carbon reducing renewable chemicals and even plastics.  

Third, this year’s report provides a stunning contrast to 2019, the year before the global pandemic. Total jobs grew by almost 20 percent. Compared with 2019, there are now almost 18,000 more jobs in agriculture production, 154,000 jobs in food and agriculture manufacturing and 619,000 jobs in wholesale and distribution. 

Total food and ag economic impact grew by over 36 percent, leading to a 36 percent increase in total taxes paid. Further, the growth is broad – every state and the District of Columbia experienced significant growth.

The report is a reminder agriculture is the foundation of a modern economy. Even though the U.S. has moved beyond years where a major portion of the nation’s population is directly involved in agricultural production, many are still involved in the broader food and agriculture sector. 

And, the success of one part of the food and ag industry is highly dependent on the success of other parts of the process, including international trade of food and agricultural products.

For example, farmers need markets for their production. All those manufacturing jobs are dependent on the efficiency and sustainability of American farmers. The jobs in food wholesale and retail would not be so abundant if America’s food supply were not so affordable. 

With farmland acreage declining, climate change stress on agricultural production, expanding dietary health problems and surging global population, problem solvers will find the coming decades in agriculture-related industry to be fulfilling. 

Agriculture-related industry is large, diverse and resilient. Check it out.  

John Bode is president and chief executive officer of the Corn Refiners Association, the trade association representing the corn milling industry, and an appointed member of the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee, joining a select group of senior ag community representatives to provide advice to the administration on matters of trade policy. This opinion column was originally published by the American Ag Network on March 19.

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