You are here

If you're considering a career in the agricultural industry, you're in luck. There are many areas you can specialize in and there's a need for graduates.

When the University of Guelph's Ontario Agricultural College conducted a survey last fall of 100 Ontario agri-food organizations, one third reported difficulty finding qualified candidates at the graduate level.

The survey suggests that demand in general exceeds supply when it comes to agricultural and food sciences, says Dr. Rene Van Acker, associate dean of the college. It's a fairly invisible sector.

This need for agriculture professionals isn't exclusive to Ontario. The agricultural and food industry is huge in Canada, employing about one in eight people, says Dr. Brian Amiro, associate dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba. In some provinces, such as Manitoba, it is a main driver of the economy. But more importantly, people need to eat, and with an increasing world population, agriculture will continue to be a stable and growing industry as a whole.

Depending on your interest, you can chose from a variety of post-graduate studies, from general master's of science programs in agriculture, to more specialized options, such as agricultural economics or agricultural chemistry.

At the University of Manitoba, post-graduate degrees include agribusiness and agricultural economics, animal science, bio-systems engineering, entomology, food science, plant science, and soil science. Each of these programs allows the student to specialize in the technical aspects of their discipline, says Dr. Amiro.

But how do you choose from all of these options? First and foremost, [you] should make a decision based on what [your] interests are and what [your] background is, says Dr. Richard Donald, associate dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. He adds that students can enter these programs from almost any degree, including business, social science, biology, and genetics. It's a very broad field.

There's also the question of where you want to study. In the prairie provinces, like Alberta and Saskatchewan, there is more of a focus on large scale agriculture, including wheat and live-stock farming, Dr. Donald says. In Quebec, Ontario, the Maritimes, and B.C., it's smaller scale and more diverse. It depends on what your interests are.

One misconception that contributes to the low supply of graduates, is the assumption that agriculture is merely farming. While it is farming, there is much more you can do within agriculture. [Graduates] are working with companies like CropLike and Monsanto. [They're] working in crop science, food development centres, pharmaceutical industries, on family farms, and in the wine industry. They've learned how to grow crops for wine. Grads are also hired by government, banks, and multinational companies that trade grain. And a lot of grads are developing their own companies, says Dr. Buhr, the dean of the University of Saskatchewan's College of Agriculture and Bioresources,

I would think about what's exciting to me, Dr. Buhr advises. Then check out the colleges to see who's doing the research in that area. If I'm interested in animals, think about whose got great animal facilities. Follow your interest.

Photo: Stock Rocket/Thinkstock