Ag Companies Report Strong Demand for Plant Science Graduates

Ag Companies Report Strong Demand for Plant Science Graduates

Pipeline of graduates in plant sciences, plant breeding and plant protection isn't as full as desired, according to ag workforce survey

Six of the nation's largest ag companies expect to hire more than 1,000 full-time scientists between now and 2015, a survey conducted by the Coalition for a Sustainable Agricultural Workforce reported Wednesday.

The survey is based on responses collected from Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, DuPont Crop Protection, Monsanto and Syngenta. Responses were collected in the first quarter of 2013.

Availability is a concern
Of the expected hires, the companies report that 84% of the total is needed in plant sciences, plant breeding/genetics, and plant protection. Nearly half – 46% – will need to hold doctoral degrees, the survey said.

Pipeline of graduates in plant sciences, plant breeding and plant protection isn't as full as desired, according to ag workforce survey

Even though the demand is there, the companies report that the availability of qualified candidates is limited. According to survey results, in each of the three desired plant-based disciplines, the companies anticipate difficulty in hiring the education and experience they seek, and will likely need to retrain some hires in the plant disciplines.

Ag Companies Report Strong Demand for Plant Science Graduates

Related: Wanted: Ag Biosciences High Schoolers

Aside from the three most popular categories, companies identified areas that are "particularly critical" to gain new hires. Those areas include: molecular biologists/geneticists, molecular biology/informatics; ecologists, ground water ecologists, non-target ecology; environmental chemists/toxicologists; environmental modelers; entomologists; plant breeders (molecular marker experience); plant pathologists; plant physiologists; regulatory science, regulatory toxicology; statisticians; and weed scientists.

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The companies expect to use headhunters or professional search firms, hiring from other companies, position posts, direct contact with university departments and focus on individuals who received scholarships or fellowships from the company, survey responses indicated.

Global hires
The companies responding to the survey also noted that most of the 2012 ag-related full time workers were located in four regions: Europe (18%), Asia (11%), South America (17%), and North America (51%).

When asked where the full-time workers they plan to hire between 2012 and 2015 will be located, companies indicated that they will be hiring larger percentages in Asia (15%) and South America (28%), balanced by lower percentages in Europe (14%) and North America (40%).

Countries mentioned most often as those where companies anticipate making the greatest numbers of new ag-related hires between 2012 and 2015 include Brazil, Argentina, China, India and the United States.

Ag Companies Report Strong Demand for Plant Science Graduates

Bigger picture
The results of the study underscore a trend toward increasing education in science, technology engineering and math – an ongoing effort that has involved companies like Monsanto, which has recently partnered with high schools to expand STEM education.

The state of Iowa is also pushing a similar program, through the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council. Most recently, ag education programs in the state were awarded funding for expanded STEM education offerings.

And last summer, the USDA organized a Twitter chat regarding careers in agricultural science, hosted by Chief Scientist Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics Catherine Woteki.

During the chat, Wotecki offered USDA resources for getting students interested in STEM courses, pointing out that students involved in 4-H at an early age are more likely to study science in college. In addition, she said, land grant universities in all 50 states and territories offer undergrad majors in ag sciences.

The CSAW survey was conducted by Readex Research. Read the survey highlights: Coalition for a Sustainable Agricultural Workforce 2013 Agricultural Science Workforce Census

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