Farming for employment: How agriculture affects American jobs

When people think about food industry jobs, they may first go to fast food, restaurant workers, and often the low wages that come along with those positions, which are among the lowest in the country. According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2013, food preparation and serving workers, including fast food employees, held thethird most common job in the U.S., so this may come as no surprise. In fact, the National Restaurant Association predicts that the restaurant industry will add more than 300,000 jobs in 2015.

But what about jobs in another integral sector of the food industry—agriculture?

Agricultural prosperity equates to more jobs

In recent years, agricultural prosperity has been a contributor to job growth in the food industry and country as a whole. Earlier this month, USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement about U.S. agricultural jobs following new data from the USDA’s Economic Research Service. According to the data and Secretary Vilsack, “More than one million people go to work every day thanks to exports of American-grown products.” And according to the press release containing his statement, these jobs make up “a substantial part of the nearly 11.3 million jobs supported by exports all across our country.”

This number can be attributed in part to the strength of U.S. agricultural trade. The last six fiscal years (2009-2014) were the strongest combined in history with $771.7 billion in agricultural exports. Fiscal year 2014 broke trade records with $152.5 billion in exports. More money in the U.S. agricultural export business means more jobs for Americans.

These numbers are in spite of some countries rejecting certain U.S. exports. Last month, China banned U.S. poultry and egg imports because of potentialcontamination with a reported avian flu. Due to a listeria outbreak recall, U.S. apple exports were hindered in some countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Thailand. Apple and pear exports from the U.S. were also threatened by a European Union chemical ban on DPA in 2014, which is commonly used on these U.S. crops.

However, U.S. agricultural exports have seen positive changes in the past few months as well. China began permitting more apple varieties into the country in January, a move that could increase fresh apple exports by around 10% in the next two years. China approved Syngenta’s Vintera GMO corn strain, which had previously been banned in the country. Some senators in the U.S. have also begun work on potential Cuba trade legislation, which could remove certain trade barriers, boost U.S. exports to the country, and, in turn, create jobs, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in a press release

How the USDA is getting involved

The USDA has offered a number of programs and funding for supporting jobs in the agriculture industry. Most recently, the association announced more than $9 million to be dedicated to “outreach and technical assistance to minority and veteran farmers and ranchers,” namely through community-based organizations, eligible higher education institutions, and tribal organizations. This advocacy project is known as the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, or the "2501 Program.”

In a statement regarding the program’s funding, USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden said, “To stay competitive, America's farmers and ranchers must be diverse in experience, background and skills. Every farmer and rancher has something to contribute to America's agriculture. Community partnerships can help farmers and ranchers reach their full potential.”

In another recent effort, the USDA announced over $18 million would go to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which is a community-based program that “empowers these farmers and ranchers to bring innovative ideas to the table when it comes to addressing food security, creating economic enterprises, and building communities,” said Harden in a statement.

Can agricultural innovation lead to more jobs?

An influx of jobs could also come from innovations in agriculture, such asdrones, which have recently garnered one company FAA approval. While drones could take the jobs of some who work in crop surveillance, they could also bring in a slew of opportunities for drone creators, operators, repairers, data analysts, and other jobs related to the new technology.

Whether through increased exports, government funding, or technological innovations, it appears that agricultural jobs are on the rise in the U.S. And with the world’s population growing at an astounding rate, those jobs will be all the more important when it comes time to feed several billions of people.