Agriculture Among “20 Most Useless Degrees”… And We’re Missing the Point

Thought ya’ll might be interested in this response to yesterday’s post written by Andy Vance (Twitter, Web). I thought about this point of view before I started writing that post, but opted out. Thanks Andy for sharing your thoughts on the subject. Be sure to drop by his site and share your comments there as well.

Let’s delve a little deeper into the problems with the Daily Beast article in the first place. As Ryan notes, four degrees related to food and agriculture found their way on to the list: horticulture (#2), agriculture (#3), nutrition (#10), and animal science (#20). I’m especially screwed, as it turns out, because journalism actually made the top spot on the list… So I guess I’m in a dying profession reporting on a dying industry… Comforting, isn’t it?

Here’s the big issue, though: we’re all missing the point in our condemnation of this article.

Setting aside the validity of the article’s premise in the first place (chemistry, human resources, mechanical engineering and psychology also made the list), let’s consider the larger issue with agriculture’s inclusion at all: an otherwise intelligent reporter at an otherwise upstanding news organization (relatively speaking, given the tie to Newsweek) considered four degrees related to food production “useless.”

In true fashion, we’re all outraged that someone should think our profession “useless.” This isn’t the most outrageous fact of the case. The most shocking revelation from this story is that educated, intelligent Americans don’t realize that food production must increase 70 percent in 40 years to feed 3 billion additional human beings.

Chew that over for a minute. I’m still struggling to get my head around the idea of feeding 100 million additional Americans by 2050, let alone 3 billion additional mouths worldwide in the next four decades. Now add to that the fact that apparently most people are completely unaware of the problem in the first place, and my concern approaches critical mass.

While we’re busy worrying about telling people about the importance of farmers and ranchers, we’re skipping the most critical step in the transfer of knowledge from farm to fork: that we are standing on the razor’s edge of a potential food crisis the likes of which modern society has never known.

If we truly want to win the hearts and minds of consumers, and keep our critics at bay, let’s meet consumers where they are, and speak in terms of what they actually care about. We care about preserving our way of life and earning some respect for our profession; this doesn’t concern the consumer at all.

If we instead focus on the needs of our customer, we’ll turn this thought around and help them understand the repercussions of fewer farmers, fewer farms and ranches, and fewer professionals and food and agriculture related occupations. Namely, that the type of market volatility we’re experiencing in the petroleum markets (as viewed through the prism of consumer pain at the pump), can easily

via Agriculture Among “20 Most Useless Degrees”… And We’re Missing the Point | Andy Vance.


  1. Guess I’m one of those dying breeds in a dying profession – an agriculture journalist. (I was also a livestock producer much of my adult life.) I know I am basically preaching to the choir since I write for an ag newspaper. I just hope some of my venting about consumer ignorance fires up my farmers in the realization they must do something. I attend field days, meetings, seminars, etc., held by various groups – i.e. organic, no pesticides, anti-GMO, etc., and I think about all the people we are going to have to feed in the future and realize most people don’t understand what all those things have actually done to increase food production and by how much. We need to educate, educate, educate, in the schools from elementary on. And we also need to repudiate much of the adverse publicity agriculture gets from the many groups who haven’t the slightest idea what they are talking about.

  2. I grew up in middle class suburbia with parents, friends and a dog here and there. I remember, from the time I was very young, looking out the car window hoping to catch a glimpse of a cow, a horse or whatever animal might be out there. None of my relatives had farms, but my grandmother knew of my love for animals and gave me the book ‘Ten Big Farms’ by Dahlov Ipcar when I was barely old enough to read it myself. That book fueled the interest I had for all things agriculture and from that time on, I was determined to become a farmer.

    When I found out that I could go to college and major in agriculture, I was nearly beside myself. As a high school junior, I wrote to Delaware Valley College (when ‘of Science and Agriculture’ was still part of its name) to request an application. Imagine my dismay when I received a letter stating in part ‘we are an all-male college and are not accepting women at this time … we will let you know if that changes’. Not long after that, I received another letter stating that they’d be pleased to consider my application. That was in 1971. I graduated 4 years later with a B.S in Animal Husbandry.

    Part of me always wanted to be a writer, but I never considered a journalism major. Writing was just something that was easy for me to do. As I worked in various agricultural positions, I realized that I could combine my love for agriculture with writing. Thanks to my formal education, practical experience and an inherited love for writing, I now have what I consider my dream job – agricultural journalist. I am privileged to work with farmers of all kinds and learn something new every day.

    Like Carol, I’ve attended many meetings and heard nearly every opinion on various production methods. And as she stated, I’m also often preaching to the choir. However, the growing voice of dissent between those who practice one production method vs those who do it another way is quite disturbing to me. That, and the subject of animal welfare vs animal rights are a few of the most divisive issues in ag.

    The idea that majors in food and agriculture are considered ‘useless’ or unimportant is frightening. How will the next generation learn how to do what’s necessary to feed the population without adequate education? Ag is different now than it was in the 70s and 80s, and I expect it to be different in both the near and distant future. Without ‘learning how to learn’, which is what my father said was the most important aspect of a college education, I don’t see how future generations will be equipped to move forward in ag….and even the vegetarians and vegans will go hungry.

  3. Could I be a farmer agronomically speaking without my degree in Soil and Crop Management. Probably, as I would learn from family, experience, magazines, field days, etc. But I wouldn’t know nearly as much about the world in general as I do now. I met so many people from diverse walks of life and different states and countries that I never would have if I didn’t go. I wouldn’t have gotten my first and only off the farm job out of college without some type of degree. I think knowing the science behind the agronomics is important, and not just doing things because that’s they way they are done. It’s important to question the norm every once in a while.

    And you can’t put a price on 4 years in the student section of Mackey Arena and witnessing first hand the transition from the Keady era to the Painter era. Boiler Up!

  4. Andy,
    This missing point is what we are trying to cover at Texas Crossroads Gathering. We spend so much time getting angry and venting our frustrations or simply preaching to the choir that we don’t get much done. Agriculture makes up less than two percent of the population. With only a small percentage of us trying to agrovate that probably drops us less than a percent of the population trying to influence the 99.5%. That will make about as much difference as a single drop of rain on the parched desert. We ALL need to work together on this as one unit which is what I am trying to get started at

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