Agriculture a Driver of Economic Development
By Jay Akridge
With job creation one of our nation’s biggest concerns, it is encouraging that the approximately 3,300 undergraduate and graduate students who are just beginning or continuing their studies in the Purdue University College of Agriculture are preparing for careers in one of the hottest job-creating sectors of our economy. And studies indicate that land-grant universities such as Purdue fuel that sector’s growth.
A recent study conducted by the Battelle Institute, an independent research organization, found that agriculture and agbiosciences are generating vital economic growth and job creation, particularly in the North Central United States, which includes Indiana and much of the Midwest. This Midwest area, once dubbed the “Rust Belt,” is becoming the breeding ground for new “green” agriculture-related jobs.
In the 12-state North Central region, the agriculture and agbioscience industry is valued at $125 billion and supports more than 2.4 million jobs. A report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue projects that more than 54,000 jobs will be generated annually in the agricultural, food and renewable natural resources sectors through 2015. That's more jobs nationally than there will be qualified graduates in some fields.
Closer to home, a BioCrossroads study found that the agricultural segment accounts for 28,000 of the 105,000 workers employed directly or indirectly by the Indiana life sciences industry.
The Battelle study states that the agriculture-driven industry in the North Central region is poised to expand into new markets such as health, specialty crops, biofuels and biobased products. Agricultural-based materials have the potential to replace up to two-thirds of petro-based chemicals, which represents a $1 trillion global market. New opportunities in health, food safety, biofuels, and environmental technologies have the potential to create thousands of new jobs and knowledge-based companies across this region and the United States.
Looking to the future, some of the most pressing issues that we as a society face revolve around agricultural sciences: feeding a hungry world’s growing population, developing renewable sources of energy, addressing climate change and environmental challenges, and stewarding our natural resources. Not only will advances in agriculture and agbiosciences create more jobs in the future, but these advances are required to help us solve some of our world’s greatest challenges.
These economic opportunities in agriculture and agbiosciences are supported in an important way by work done at Purdue and our nation’s other land-grant universities. According to the Batelle report, land-grant universities help grow the economy by “developing new technologies, reducing the gap between research and commercialization, educating knowledgeable workers, supplying unbiased information and supporting farmers and ranchers as they work to expand market opportunities.”
As Congress comes back into session and begins considering FY 2012 spending (and beyond), the study’s statement that “sustained or expanded federal, state and local support for these important Universities and their experiment stations and extension services is critical” is worth keeping in mind.
Agriculture and agbiosciences have the potential to help lead the economic development our country needs for long-term prosperity. Investments in land-grant universities that provide education, conduct research, develop innovation, and disseminate information will help ensure that our nation realizes the promise and potential of this important industry.