Diverse career opportunities exist in the agriculture and plant sciences industries, and many young professionals are needed to meet employer demands. That was the message from industry representatives at a California Agriculture Teacher Association Conference workshop in late June.

“It is tough to find quality individuals and get them to enter our industry,” says Todd Collins, western regional sales manager from Harris Moran Seed Company. “We want people to know that there are multiple areas for employment within horticulture and plant sciences.”

Chad Smith, manager of sustainability initiatives at Earthbound Farms, agrees with Collins. He says the industry encompasses more than just research and development.

“Studying plant sciences doesn’t mean you will have to work in a lab and do research all day. There are many different opportunities from microbiologist to marketing,” Smith says.

The workshop, titled “Careers in Plant Sciences,” allowed a panel of industry professionals to share their needs with approximately 30 agriculture educators from across the state. Panel members described specific career opportunities within their companies and encouraged educators to share the information with their students.

Exposing students to different agriculture career options can help them discover what careers will be the best fit for them, says Eric Spell, president of AgCareers.com, a company that provides human resource services to the agriculture industry.

“If students find out early about the vast agriculture career possibilities, they can match their interests to a career as they progress through the education system,” Spell says. “Attracting and retaining talent in our industry is important, especially when our current work force is aging.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2006 U.S. labor force consisted of 14.8 percent of workers ages 16 to 24, 68.4 percent of workers ages 25 to 54, and 16.8 percent of workers 55 years or older.

“The agriculture industry is experiencing a tremendous turnover in talent as the baby boomers retire,” says Charles Crabb, director of education at the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation.

The Bureau projects that by 2016 the 55 years and older age group will increase by 5.9 percent while the 25 to 54 age group will decrease by 3.8 percent and the 16 to 24 age group will decrease by 2.1 percent.

These statistics may be disturbing to every industry, but Terry Stark, president of the California Association of Pest Control Advisers says they are especially alarming to the agriculture and plant sciences industries.

“We are losing 150 plus licensed pest control advisers in the state of California each year and we are only gaining 50 to 75 new students annually that are getting their licenses,” Stark says. “The shortage forces companies to compete with one another for PCAs leading to an increase in prices which is not good for anybody.”

So why aren’t more students choosing to study and pursue a career in horticulture or plant sciences? Crabb says there are a number of factors at work.

“We have a shift in student demographics as fewer students have an agriculture background and even fewer truly understand where their food comes from,” he says.

Even when students decide to study agriculture, Crabb says horticulture or plant sciences may not be as attractive as other areas like animal sciences.

“Nobody gets excited about a champion cabbage, but it’s a big deal to win champion steer, barrow or wether,” he says. “Plant sciences may not be as sexy as animal sciences or other agriculture industries, but it is vitally important and there are many excellent job opportunities available.”

To learn more about current jobs available in the agriculture, food, natural resources or biotechnology industries, visit www.agcareers.com.