Richardson is also working to form an industry advisory council whose input will help the college update undergraduate and graduate curricula to reflect evolving workforce needs. Communication and problem solving skills are just as significant as research and scientific knowledge, he said.

“Getting feedback from both local and national agriculture companies will help us better serve our students,” Richardson said. “It’s important to prepare them for the multitude of careers they’re capable of pursuing. Our graduates are very bright scientists, but they also need to be able to think, speak and write effectively using current technologies.”

Such abilities put people with doctorates, who tend to specialize, a step ahead when applying for jobs.

“Companies are looking for more of a generalist – someone who has very broad experience, understands concepts and can apply that education to different areas,” Leonard said.

That kind of background is in demand, he said, because agriculture’s biggest challenge is wide reaching – doubling global food production by 2050. The task is so daunting that industry is competing with academia for trained scientists.

If a company can’t hire a suitable young graduate, it can make the job offer more attractive to recruit mid-career faculty from universities, Leonard said. When faculty leave to take those jobs, they create a vacuum of people to teach and train students – the next generation of ag scientists.

A shrinking workforce jeopardizes the innovation needed in today’s agriculture industry.

“It has to happen through technology, equipment and a broad knowledge base,” Leonard said. “The people who are going to be meeting the challenge of food security over the next few decades are the ones being trained right now. We are hopeful that if we develop industry partnerships to define their expectations and needs, then the roadmap to success will be clear.”