Those who believe agriculture isn’t a serious academic subject and farmers are an uneducated lot may be enticed to expand their views based on the farm community’s reaction to a Jan. 19 article declaring agriculture degrees “useless.”

Yahoo Education, a news division of the search engine giant, published the piece by writer Terence Loose, listing agriculture, animal science and horticulture as three of the five “most useless” degrees available to college students.

The article was based on figures from the Department of Labor assessing the number of available positions for farm managers, animal scientists, and farmers and ranchers. Perhaps showing the cultural divide between those who work in the farming and food industries and those who don’t, it didn’t take into consideration the many jobs related to agriculture that aren’t directly on the farm, including with input suppliers, farm services, food processing and distribution and the agricultural media. The result was a very narrow view of an industry that encompasses 21 million U.S. jobs.

The Yahoo piece was also highly antithetical to those who actually work in the industry and know it is one of the few bright spots in an economy that has stagnated for nearly four years. While other U.S. industries that produce tangible products, like manufacturing, have struggled to compete in a global market, U.S. agriculture is thriving, with ag exports worth $137 billion in the last fiscal year.

Farmers, editors of agriculture publications and agriculture educators responded in force against the article’s allegations, pointing out the generalizations and gaps in its argument and reminding people that, as an editorial from Drovers CattleNetwork put it, “[d]on’t criticize our chosen profession…with your mouth full.”

The deans of agriculture at Purdue University, the University of Illinois, the Ohio State University and Iowa State University released a detailed press statement citing studies showing the need for agriculture industry workers and low unemployment rates for ag graduates compared to their peers in other fields.

The article was still producing Twitter traffic as of press time, with the hash tag #productofagedu marking some tweets. On Facebook, a new group titled “I Studied Agriculture & I Have A Job” had nearly 4,500 likes on Thursday.

The greater irony of the Yahoo piece for those who did study agriculture – and those who didn’t but work in the industry anyway – is that even as the number of on-farm jobs decreases, farmers still struggle to find qualified workers, and many industries that support the farming and food systems are in dire need of young, talented people.

Agricultural research is one of these areas, with both public and private research organizations raising concerns about finding the qualified, and highly-paid, professionals they need now and will need in the coming decades. Experienced wheat researchers, for instance, are in high demand as more and more investment goes into producing the world’s most widely cultivated crop with less water and land and yet to feed more people.

As longtime aggies continue to tackle these real challenges, they can be heartened that their backlash against the Yahoo piece might have a happy consequence: showing their urban friends the rich opportunities available in one of our country’s most fundamental industries.

The full Yahoo article is at http://education.yahoo.net/articles/most_useless_degrees.htm.