Graduate opportunities in agriculture

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
March, 2018

A new generation of talented graduates is required in agriculture to help overcome long-term global challenges including food and water shortages and climate change

What makes this sector even more interesting is that it's a catch-all term encompassing a range of potential agriculture careers - from engineering and sales to farm management and animal welfare.

As Grace Nugent, livestock team manager at specialist recruitment firm De Lacy Executive says, 'Agriculture is a dynamic, sophisticated and high-technology industry with countless opportunities for young people.'

She adds, 'Graduates have a choice of commercial and technical roles on progressive farms, or in the large number of global and regional companies involved with crops, livestock, machinery and food, to name a few.

'The agricultural industry can offer competitive financial rewards, coupled with significant opportunities to achieve your potential and a chance to feel part of a vibrant community.'

If that appeals to you, then farming could be a field worth exploring.

What farm jobs are available in the UK?

'Prospects are generally very good, more so in the private rather than the public sector,' says Dr Iwan Gittins Owen, course coordinator for agriculture degrees at Aberystwyth University.

He points in particular to animal nutrition, farm management and agronomy (the science of crop production and soil management) as areas with good prospects for graduates.

The generation of baby boomers that entered the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s are nearing retirement, and that means openings are available for those with the right farming qualifications.

'The late Sir Colin Spedding (an industry expert) stated in 2010 that the UK agricultural industry would need 60,000 new entrants, including 10,000 at graduate and management level, by 2020 just to sustain its workforce,' Iwan says.

To make yourself more employable, you should acquire business and IT skills in addition to gaining a scientific and technological understanding of the industry, he advises. A good degree, especially one that includes a year gaining practical experience and contacts in the industry, will give you an advantage.

There are many different paths that you could choose depending on your agricultural skills, interests and academic background. Among the most popular, Iwan says, are 'hands-on' agriculture careers including dairy herd, sheep flock or farm management in the UK and overseas. Many choose to take their skills overseas, such as finding work in New Zealand.

Alternatively, consultancy and sales roles are available in areas such as animal nutrition or the agri-pharmaceutical industry, where you'll be advising clients but typically employed by a commercial manufacturer or supplier.

Or you could opt for administrative jobs, for example in the animal health and welfare departments of local government, or working on the likes of insurance and policy with farming unions.

There is a detailed explanation here of graduate environmental jobs.

What are agricultural employers looking for?

According to Grace, while there is a shortage of people in the 20 to 40 age group within the sector, the agriculture jobs market in the UK is still extremely competitive.

'Employers seek applicants with good qualifications, personal motivation and a willingness to learn,' she says. 'Strong communication and team playing skills will also be required. Employers will be particularly interested in applicants who have gained some experience of practical farming.'

If you studied an unrelated subject at university, you may wish to explore specialist farm management courses and other related agricultural subjects as you search postgraduate courses.

To find out more about the qualifications you'll need, see how to get an environmental job.

Once you've got your foot in the door, it's a sector that offers newcomers the chance to progress and build lasting agriculture careers.

As an industry, farming and agriculture faces many significant obstacles that are vitally important for the wider society - notably the increasing demand for food as the global population grows. Talented new graduates could be the ones to overcome them.

'Dwindling resources, climate change and the need to both protect and enhance the environment provide extremely challenging but rewarding opportunities, where the adoption of new technologies and development of precision management techniques rival any other sector or industry,' Iwan says.

'Agriculture and farming are once again viewed not only as respectable but invaluable, after many decades of very negative perceptions.'

As with any job sector, having relevant work experience is important in securing a permanent role, so it's worth spending a summer as a farmer's apprentice or undertaking an agricultural internship with a company such as John Deere.

For information on agricultural apprenticeships for those seeking a structured way in to the industry, see GOV.UK.

You can also view De Lacy Executive's Growing a Career page for further guidance on how to get into farming.