Want a Job? Study Crop Sciences

My Generation

Farmers, commodity groups and universities are doing all they can to entice young people into crop sciences.

Published on: May 4, 2010

At last year’s Farm Progress Show, I stood chatting in the U of I tent with the two Bobs of the College of ACES - Bob Hoeft, former head of Crop Sciences and current director of Extension, and Bob Hauser, interim Dean of the College of ACES (although in reality, there are probably many more Bobs in ACES). And in the course of our visit, Bob Hoeft dropped a tidbit of interesting information. Turns out, they need more students in crop sciences.

In fact, they currently have as many as four jobs available for every crop sciences graduate. I went into communications for a reason as I’m no math major, but even I know those are pretty good odds when you’re looking for a job.

Why so few crop sciences students? According to Hoeft: fewer farm kids, a nasty organic chemistry requirement, and a PR problem. “They see the word ‘crop’ as a negative,” he says. “They see the image of bib overalls and a pitchfork.”

As of this spring, the organic chem problem may be solved, as the department is offering their own organic chemistry class. Instead of the weed-out, giant lecture, thrown-in-with-every-pre-med-major class they used to have to take, crop sciences students can take organic chem within their own department, learning instead about the organic chemistry of feed additives, pesticides - real life stuff.

And U of I is just too big for some kids. Or too expensive for their parents. Sure, there are big classes. But there are also small niches, where your professors can become like a family. Ag communications was that way. And crop sciences is, too.

And as for the money part, the Illinois Soybean Association is trying to do something about it. “Enrollment in crop science programs at the four state universities has declined during recent years, which is detrimental for developing future university researchers. We hope to fill that void with this new scholarship program," says ISA Chairman Ron Moore, a soybean farmer from Roseville, Ill. "Students often overlook what can be exciting and well paying career opportunities in the crop science field, and we hope to change that."

They’re offering major scholarships all over Illinois, with six full-ride scholarships at Illinois and another six at SIU. By full ride, we’re talking as much as $55,000 paid for over the course of four years, as long as the student keeps a minimum GPA.

And you’ll get a job when you’re done, with a starting salary that averages between $35,000 and $90,000. One company told Hoeft they’d hire every one of their students if they could. That’s not a bad deal.