About the only thing hotter than STEM careers right now may be STEAM careers – Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Math.  With little question that human talent will drive innovation in the food and agricultural sciences (and the broader life sciences), it is encouraging that approximately 3,400 undergraduate and graduate students are enrolled in the Purdue University College of Agriculture this fall – the highest number in more than 30 years. 

Our students study in areas such as horticulture, animal sciences, agricultural and food business, food science, biological engineering, plant breeding and genetics, wildlife biology and forest products, biochemistry, and entomology. Competition for these students is high: the placement rate for our 2014 undergraduate class (most recent data) was 96 percent, with about 22 percent of that total pursuing advanced degrees/professional education. 

Over the next five years, nearly 58,000 jobs will open annually across the United States in occupations involving food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment according to an employment outlook report released in May that was produced by Purdue University in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. According to the report, demand will be strongest for plant scientists, food scientists, sustainable biomaterials specialists, water resources scientists and engineers, precision agriculture specialists, and veterinarians.

These jobs pay well, too: Early this year, using Census data coupled with an employer survey analysis by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), USA Today published a list of college majors that will likely lead to the highest earnings for 2015 grads. The broad area of agriculture and natural resources was ranked number 5, with 2015 projected average starting salaries of $51,220.

As Indiana’s land-grant university, we want to see these students taking jobs in Indiana, in our food and agricultural industry, in our production agriculture sector, and with our life sciences firms. And, we see AgriNovus Indiana playing a crucial catalyst role in making that happen.  The work being done by AgriNovus Indiana to help frame a coherent economic development strategy in the areas of plant science and crop production, animal health and nutrition, value-added food and nutrition, and agricultural equipment technologies and systems will encourage existing firms to expand here, attract new firms to the state, and help create a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem supporting new firm development. A thriving food and agriculture innovation sector means more Indiana internships and jobs for talented STEAM students.       

Important societal issues such as providing safe and affordable nutrition to a growing world, creating renewable sources of energy, developing industrial products from renewable feedstocks, maintaining clean air and water, and conserving scarce natural resources such as soil, will demand innovative solutions, new technology, creative business models, and science-based policy.  We need talented young men and women working on these issues, in the food and agricultural innovation sector.

We feel Indiana as a state has a special role to play in developing solutions to these issues and taking advantage of the opportunities they create – we have the industry, academic, and governmental assets here to do something special.  But, effective collaboration is essential to make this potential a reality. By working across these industry, government, and academic lines, AgriNovus Indiana is helping Indiana position itself for success globally in this space, and helping to insure that we claim a disproportionate share of those jobs.

As a manufacturing state, we know a bit about the power of steam.  As a state with an exciting future in the broad area of food and agricultural innovation, we are going to learn a lot more about the economic power of STEAM.

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