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Michelle Cao ’16 studies agricultural workforce

By Upstate Institute on July 14, 2015

The workforce in agricultural and farming occupations are on a downward trend. In order to tackle this issue, internships can be given to students and young people to promote and encourage entrance into the agricultural industry. To facilitate this in Madison County, Michelle Cao ’16, researched workforce trends in agriculture and farming, compared similar internship positions, and developed guidelines for an internship program to be implemented between local Madison County farms and Madison County institutions of higher education.

The Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting industry is defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as establishments engaged primarily in crops, animals, timber, and fish and other animals. This industry by occupation is currently one of the smallest occupational groups, making up less than 1% of total employment. Farming, Fishing and Forestry is also one of the lowest paying occupational groups, which include food preparation and serving related occupations and personal care and service, each with an annual mean wage of $25,000 or less. The industry unemployment rate peaked around 20% in January 2010 but has since generally been decreasing to a rate of 7.6% in June 2015. According to the BLS, every major occupational group except Farming, Fishing and Forestry is projected to gain jobs between 2012 and 2022.

For the specific occupation under Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers, job outlook is expected to decline 19% from 930,600 in 2012 to 750,700 in 2022. This decrease in employment might be due to the consolidation of farmland into larger and more efficient farms or farmers just leaving the profession; despite this decrease, there has been an increase in the number of small-scale farmers performing successfully in trending market niches that involve direct contact with their customer base, like organic food production and horticulture. Others use farmer’s markets or join CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) cooperatives to communicate personally with their urban and suburban consumers; some also participate in collectively-owned marketing cooperatives that process and sell their products.

New York state’s location quotient (quantifying how concentrated a particular industry is in a region compared to the country) of farming, fishing, and forestry occupations is 0.13. Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations in New York state have median hourly wages of $13.29, mean hourly wages of $15.55, and annual mean wages $32,350. Syracuse’s farming, fishing and forestry occupations, including those in Madison County, have a concentration of 0.17, slightly higher than the entire state’s location quotient. Syracuse has a slightly higher concentration of individuals working in farming, fishing and forestry occupations compared to the state.

After looking at comparative agricultural internship programs, Michelle found that there is a need for such an internship program in Madison County. This program could be modeled after the Cornell CALS NYS Internship program and the Colgate University Upstate Institute, where the institutions link students to local businesses while also helping the community. The idea of the internship program is based on the Foreign Agricultural Service’s international internship program, where the FAS acts as the main headquarters sending “ambassadors” abroad. The data on industry trends and outlook is taken from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Cornell Chronicle.

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