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August 07, 2012 3:55 PM Cow College

By Daniel Luzer

Despite Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to turn the United States of America into a nation of small, self-sufficient farmers, there are actually very few real farmers left in this country. In Jefferson’s time farmers were about 90 percent of the American workforce. Today less than one percent of the country works in farming. There are more people living in Kentucky than there are farming full time in this country.

Despite this, however, a whole lot more college students are now majoring in agriculture. According to an article by Jens Manuel Krogstad in USA Today:

At traditional agriculture powerhouses such as Penn State, where enrollment is up more than 40% since 2004, career preparation can include cutting-edge research in areas such as plant breeding or genomics. Schools in more urban regions draw students interested in local foods and healthy eating.
Iowa State University, where the agriculture college this fall expects to surpass an enrollment record set 35 years ago, is straining to meet industry demand for its graduates, said Wendy Wintersteen, the agriculture college dean.

But this doesn’t mean the return of the family farm. Most of these graduates will never be farmers. Krogstad explains that the surge in agriculture majors seem to have a lot to do with what students see as a good job market, for careers in global agribusiness. As she said:

Anthony Lackore, 24, graduated from Iowa State in 2010 and works as a production agronomist raising soybean seeds for DuPont Pioneer, a company that produces hybrid seeds. He had the job lined up by the fall of his senior year.
The university reports a 95% job-placement rate for graduates from the colleges of engineering and agriculture. Wages can start at between $50,000 and $60,000, said Iowa State University President Steven Leath.

Politicians created America’s land grant colleges in part so that residents of each state could enjoy a steady stream of well trained and knowledgeable farmers. The farmers are mostly gone but, at least in some way, the country’s agricultural colleges are still feeding the world.

And at least now some of the graduates are getting paid pretty well.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer