Studying to work in the food economy

“There is always a future if you want to work in agriculture or the food supply chain.” That is the mantra of the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) as it continues to see outstanding employment rates for its graduating students.

Dr Louise Manning, senior lecturer in food production management, recalls the old adage: “People have always got to eat. They can do without other things, but they can’t do without food.”

012©RSmith2008This is perhaps even more pertinent for the future. Predictions suggest that by 2050 potentially nine billion people will need to be fed each and every day. Many of the top global brands, such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, and largest multinational corporations, including Wal-Mart and Nestlé, are involved with the influential business of food.

The RAU has seen a steady growth in the number of students from both traditional farming and also from non-farming backgrounds. Land-based undergraduate and post-graduate studies include agriculture, farm management, agribusiness and wider land management courses.

“Young men and women alike are seriously considering a future for themselves in agriculture and food management,” says Dr Manning. “The job roles are endless from the practical side, such as working directly and up close with crops and livestock, through to business management and also scientific-based work, such as being a nutritionist, agronomist or technologist.”

Young men and women alike are seriously considering a future for themselves in agriculture and food management

Businesses in the supply chain that are marketing or processing food through to retailers and food service companies, interacting directly with the consumer, need to have fresh talent in order to grow. This means they rely on the RAU to educate their students so they understand how food is produced and the challenges that are faced when working in tandem with nature, and market dynamics.

These challenges are real and ever present, for example the impact of the global economic downturn or the current drought in California affecting who can access the available water and whether farmers are prevented from irrigating crops so that towns and cities can have the water supplies they need.

Having knowledge of how food is produced now, and the practical and societal constraints on producing food in the same way in the future is critical to ensuring there is global leadership to solve the challenges that lie ahead.

The future for agriculture and food production is vibrant and dynamic. Entrepreneurship and a widening use of technology is now embedded in the sector, which needs skills in phone app development, for instance, and developing mathematical algorithms to embed in computer programmes that control robotic milkers or fertiliser spreaders, which can switch themselves on and off using the latest GPS technology.

113©RobertSmith2010Social science is also an important piece in the jigsaw. “There are some important decisions to be made in the coming decades about food integrity, and the personal and societal burden of food-related illnesses, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes,” says Dr Manning.

“The general public want the food industry to demonstrate their trust is well placed in those policy-makers and business leaders who are responsible for ensuring food is safe, nutritious, affordable and freely available. Distributing food to those who need it is still a big challenge to overcome.

“Society’s interaction with food is ever changing, not only in terms of the personal identity associated with a certain cuisine, but also what it says about us as people when we buy food that is produced in a specific way.”