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Agriculture Still a Growing Industry

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CENTER POINT, Iowa In an insecure economy, Kim and A.J. Lewis, parents of three children under the age of 3, see a bright future in their chosen field of agribusiness.

So does Rachel Wayson, a John Deere product manager who, with husband Michael, looks forward to raising their first child, due in January, on their farm north of Vinton.

The Waysons and Lewises, all young graduates of the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, are living their dream, earning a good living in one of the nation's few growth industries while staying close to their Iowa farm roots.

"We were a little worried when the economy crashed in 2008, but customers kept buying and sales increased," said Kim Lewis, a feed saleswoman for Cargill and a partner in Lewis Genetics, a swine-breeding business she and her husband operate on a 60-acre farm east of here.

"When the farm economy is good (as it has been for much of the past decade), things are good for us," A.J. Lewis said.

For Rachel Wayson, who grew up on a farm near Atlantic, It's the best of two worlds: "I always knew I wanted to raise my family on a farm, and I am thrilled to have a career with one of the world's great agricultural companies," she said.

Unlike many recent college graduates, who begin their careers as coffee shop baristas, both Kim Lewis and Rachel Wayson were recruited out of college by their current employers.

Wayson said a Deere internship between her junior and senior years led to an offer of full-time employment seven months before she graduated in 2006.

Lewis, who interned with Cargill during her junior year, went full-time with the company's Nutrena Feeds division right after graduation in 2005.

Wayson, who majored in ag business and economics, said one of her main responsibilities is to confer with customers about the features they want in the next generation of John Deere's midrange tractors.

Lewis, who grew up on a farm near Alburnett and majored in animal science, counsels Nutrena customers on livestock nutrition and applies that same expertise in the family swine business.

The Lewises, who raise about 175 litters per year, market most of their pigs for 4H and FFA projects. As part of their service, they advise youngsters on swine health, nutrition and showmanship.

"You hear people say, 'Oh, I don't want to go to work today.' Honestly, I've loved getting up and working every day since I graduated from Iowa State," Kim Lewis said.

Both Lewis and Wayson say they are delighted with their career choices and believe that the world's growing population assures a growing need for the food and fiber their industry produces.

Mike Gaul, Iowa State's director of career service, said demand for ISU ag graduates was underscored last month when 208 companies in hiring mode attended the college's annual career fair an increase of 37 from the 2011 fair.

Gaul said the booming farm economy is driving the demand, along with the increasingly high-tech nature of 21st-century agriculture.

"Agriculture has become a knowledge-based industry in which a specialized degree provides a definite career advantage," said ISU Associate Dean David Acker.

Gaul said the top three majors in terms of starting salaries "tend to be on the technology side."

The top four employers of ag college graduates, he said, include three industry giants, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Monsanto and John Deere, as well as the university itself.

While farm kids and small-town residents make up 44 percent of the ag college's enrollment, the majority of students now come from cities and suburbs, Acker said.

Men still hold a slight enrollment edge in the college, but women now make up 47 percent of its undergraduates, according to Gaul.

Gaul said ag college students seem to be especially conscious of job prospects as a measure of return on their educational investment.

"They want to make the world better, but they want to do so through their jobs," Acker said.

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