31 minute read

Environment Looking Into Agribusiness and Natural Resources


There is a recurring debate in America over the impact of the growing productivity and capabilities of U.S. agribusiness and the toll it takes on the environment. In other words, how can the United States grow more agricultural products and create enough energy to satisfy the needs of its people without damaging the environment beyond repair? This is a complex problem that remains at the forefront of American concerns in the twenty-first century.

The jobs described in this volume are very much involved in this debate. Jobs in agribusiness focus on efficiently growing food, as well as processing, storing, and distributing it. Food is provided not only by farmers but also by fishers, fruit growers, and cattle ranchers. Environmental workers examine the air, water, and land and protect our world from pollution and exploitation. Those who work with natural resources may be involved in mining, forestry, resource management and conservation, or energy research and exploration. All of the professions involved in these areas are affected by governmental policy and public opinion on the debate between the economic sustainability of large-scale agribusiness concerns and keeping the environment safe for humans, wildlife, and vegetation.


The American food production industry employs millions of workers in hundreds of types of businesses. These workers include agricultural technicians, inspectors, and engineers; veterinarians and veterinarian technicians; farm equipment mechanics; and food processing workers. The services needed today in the production of food and agricultural products have created many occupations that did not exist in the past. Examples of these occupations Although some small farms are still owned by independent farmers, most farms in the United States are run by large corporations. (USDA.) include soil scientists, dairy technologists, agronomists, and crop scientists.

On the Farm

For many generations agriculture was a profession dominated by the small farmer. Early in the twenty-first century, however, farms are as likely to be run by large corporations. One major reason for this shift is that agricultural technology—and the high-tech equipment it requires—is very expensive and is affordable only to large companies. In the United States about twenty-six thousand farms each sell more than $1 million in goods and products annually, and about sixty-nine thousand farms gross over $500,000. By the end of the 1990s, eight percent of the farms in the United States produced almost 75 percent of gross farm income.

Many of these huge farms are family enterprises organized as corporations. Others are owned by corporations with interests outside of farming. Some farms practice "factory farming," in which a corporation (such as a large supermarket chain) contracts with them directly for their output, then processes and sells it themselves.

In 2001, ninety percent of America's farms were still small family farms, although they produced only 28 percent of total farm income. The successful family farm specializes in the production of one or two commercial crops, borrows large amounts of capital for purchasing equipment, and uses pesticides to maximize yields on expensive land.

Increasing farm automation will gradually reduce the need for manual labor. However, skilled and experienced people who can manage the highly complex operations of large-scale farming will be in demand. Additional demand for farm workers will come from absentee owners who need managers to run their farms.

Farming, the Economy, and World Trade

During the 1980s farmers experienced a severe economic depression caused by skyrocketing interest rates and falling grain exports. Many farmers were unable to repay loans. At the same time, farmers' operating costs rose. These problems cost the United States millions of dollars in aid to farmers and in increased food prices. Thousands of family-owned farms went bankrupt. Farm Aid, a nonprofit organization formed by concerned popular musicians in 1985, was established in response to this crisis and is still raising funds to help keep family farmers on their land.

Global View


Increasing globalization presents a dilemma for the agriculture industry. Foreign markets represent a major source of business for farmers, but in most cases large-scale farmers and agricultural corporations are much better positioned to take advantage of these opportunities than small-scale family farmers.

The spread of information technology such as the Internet is one development that should help all farmers. By giving them better access to information about world markets and agricultural prices for their crops, the Internet can greatly increase their profitability. Moreover, farmers who sell their products online can reach foreign buyers that they previously had to pay a broker to locate.

Growing incomes in Asia and other areas of the developing world are already changing the nature of United States agricultural exports. The percentage of cheap foodstuffs such as cereals, grains, and vegetables is declining, while exports of more costly foods such as meat, milk, eggs, and processed or manufactured foods are on the rise.

Perhaps as important as the pattern of foreign food consumption are the effects of free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). By reducing both government assistance to farmers and protection against foreign competitors, such agreements place small farms at a disadvantage to large agribusiness firms. Today, many small-scale farmers can only survive by selling their products to large agribusinesses, who then process them into foods for sale to the public. This practice has existed in the poultry industry for many years, but it is now becoming much more common in other agricultural fields. Under this system farmers have a limited number of buyers for their goods, so they have less control over the prices they receive.

In the early 1990s circumstances started to look bright again for farmers. Because the droughts of the previous years had reduced grain surpluses to distress levels, crop prices rose. At the same time, government action stimulated a strong export market. The government's farm policy can greatly affect farmers' earnings. As of 2006, the U.S. subsidies provide almost 10 percent of farm income overall, although only 60 percent of farmers are eligible to receive them. European and Japanese farmers also receive subsidies from their governments.

Corporate farmers and manufacturers of farm equipment favor open trade and a rejection of subsidies and other protectionist measures for U.S. products. Smaller farmers, however, depend on the subsidies. They are the group most at risk from the increase in imports that will result from lowering U.S. trade barriers. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, which authorized significant increases in farm subsidies, replaced a 1996 bill that reduced subsidies. But there was debate about whether small farmers actually benefited most from the 2002 bill, and farm subsidies remain a divisive issue.

In 1994 Congress approved rules that expanded the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which provide for a system of open trade throughout the world. The new rules lower tariffs worldwide by one-third and reduced the costly subsidies for farm exports. The GATT agreement has had a wide-ranging impact on the U.S. economy. In 1970 foreign trade accounted for one-eighth of the nation's output of goods and services. By 1994 that amount had doubled to one-quarter. Trade advocates predict that by the year 2010 more than one-third of our wealth will depend entirely on doing business with other nations. Exactly how GATT will affect the farm industry as a whole, and small farmers in particular, remains to be seen.

High-Tech Innovations

New technologies, such as genetic engineering, have already affected economic growth in agribusiness. Food scientists are experimenting with genetically engineered foods, whose genes have been altered to produce a better product. One new technique, for example, has been used to improve tomatoes. Normally, tomatoes must be picked when they are firm and green so they can be processed and shipped without getting bruised. The tomatoes must then be artificially ripened, which results in a lack of flavor. With genetic engineering, however, tomatoes can be prevented from producing the normal amount of fruit-softening enzyme. Consequently, the tomatoes can stay on the vine longer without becoming too soft for handling. They also last longer in the supermarket without spoiling.

Industry Snapshots


The costs of agricultural technology have taken their toll on the small independent farmer. Corporate farms have replaced the small family farms. The best employment opportunities in the corporate world of agribusiness will be for workers with post–secondary degrees, including agronomists, agricultural engineers, and food scientists. Trade agreements introduced in the mid-1990s are expected to have a major impact on the farm industry.


As the world community becomes increasingly concerned with the health of the planet, greater emphasis is being placed on conservation and environmental protection. Careers in this industry are growing and are expected to continue to grow into the next century. The fields of waste management and pollution control are among those that will flourish.


As petroleum resources are being depleted, demand for natural gas and coal is increasing. Nuclear power is an additional source of energy that is currently being used. Many people are opposed to it, however, because of radioactive waste and potential toxicity. Environmental concerns will continue to play an important role in how energy companies do business in the twenty-first century.


The commercial fishing industry continues to decline because of overfishing and pollution. The growth of the fishing industry will most likely be in aquaculture, or fish farming, where new technologies and methods are promising to increase yields. Although only about 10 percent of the fish harvest in the United States comes from aquaculture, employment opportunities have been rising over the last decade because of the demand for fish.

Other food processing industries may soon use biotechnology applications. For example, food growers could choose natural ingredients to improve nutritional quality, increase shelf life, or ensure safety. The poultry industry could use "favorable" bacteria to control salmonella, a bacteria naturally present in poultry that can cause illness in humans. The question remains, however, as to whether the public will accept genetically engineered foods. Because European countries have banned some of these foods, this is also a growing international trade issue.

Organically Grown

Over the years consumers have become increasingly concerned about the use of pesticides by farmers. When a television news show reported on alar, a chemical found in pesticide-treated apples, the demand for commercial apples fell while the demand for organically grown apples rose dramatically. Many people resist purchasing any grains, fruits, or vegetables that have pesticide residues or that have been irradiated to control pests. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than one million human pesticide poisonings occur each year, with about twenty thousand cases resulting in death. In addition, pesticides have been associated with cancer, sterility, and neurological damage. People also fear purchasing meat or dairy products that come from animals that have been given pesticide-treated feed, antibiotics, and growth hormones. For example, in the early 1990s a controversy arose over milk that contained bovine growth hormone.

Chemicals have also done great harm to the environment. It is estimated that pesticides have polluted almost half of the groundwater and well water An assembly line worker sorts nectarines. Food processing is one of the largest industries in the United States. (© Terry Wild Studio. Reproduced by permission.) in the United States. Because of the dangers of chemicals, some farmers have decided to stop treating the earth with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and, instead, to use more natural ways to grow crops. This movement is known as sustainable agriculture or organic farming. Among other things, sustainable agriculture rotates crops to reduce dependence on fertilizer, replaces pesticides with predatory insects and with viruses that infect plant-eating pests, replenishes the soil with manure from hogs and cows, minimizes soil erosion, and relies more on mechanical removal of weeds.

Organic poultry and meats—products that come from animals that have not been fed pesticides, antibiotics, or hormones—are also increasingly popular. In fact, organic farming is a growing sector of agricultural production. A 2004 survey showed that more than half of Americans have tried organic foods and beverages and nearly one in ten use organic products on a regular basis. It also showed that Americans bought organic foods because they were healthier, taste better, supported small local farms, and are better for the environment.


Food processing is one of the largest industries in the United States. It includes all the methods for turning raw materials from farms into products for consumers. Wheat, for example, is sold to a mill for processing into flour. Cattle from a ranch in Texas are sold to a slaughterhouse. From there, they become steaks and hamburgers at the meat counter in a supermarket.

Some farm products have many uses. Corn, for example, may be made into corn syrup at a factory and then sold to a company that makes candy. Or corn may be sold to a company that makes breakfast cereals. Other corn is sold as feed for farm animals.

Employment in the food industry, especially on production lines, depends on several variables. For example, bad weather that destroys crops will in turn affect jobs in food processing. Increased automation of canneries and manufacturing plants also means that there will be fewer jobs in this industry. However, whereas some areas of food processing are employing fewer workers, others are expanding.

New Food Trends

Food scientists create new products to entice consumers. In the 1990s, when medical reports indicated that excess fat in Americans' diets was causing obesity and heart disease, food scientists began producing many "fat-free" foods. Oreos, Chips Ahoy!, and Fig Newtons—for years America's best-selling packaged cookies—were surpassed in 1994 by SnackWell's, which is Nabisco's line of fat-free and low-fat snacks.

Whereas the popularity of fat-free and low-fat foods has brought an increased demand for some products, it has brought a drop in sales of others, such as coconut oil. This oil was used on popcorn in movie theaters across the country until a 1994 report indicated that movie popcorn contained a substantial amount of unhealthy saturated fat. Fat-conscious consumers stopped buying movie popcorn until the vendors switched to less-saturated vegetable oils. Americans have also been purchasing less red meat, such as steak, hamburger, and sausage; instead, they are buying more poultry and fish, which have a lower fat content.

Whether the popularity of low-fat foods will continue remains to be seen. During the first years of the twenty-first century there has been a strong interest in low-carbohydrate foods, but that, too, began to decrease. The effect of specific diets on health is controversial. Fads and trends fluctuate, and workers in the food industry must keep up with these changes.

Food Industry Issues

An important issue for the food industry in the early 1990s was truth in labeling. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced new food label regulations, which went into effect in 1994. These regulations standardized the meanings of such terms as low-fat, reduced fat, and light. The FDA also tests foods to see if the labels are accurate.

The safety of the nation's food supply, which is regulated by the FDA, continues to be an issue at the forefront of the news. In December 2003 the FDA recalled meat from grocery stores and restaurants in the Northwest after a dairy cow brought to Washington state from Canada was diagnosed with Mad Cow Disease—the first such case documented in the United States. Due to continued concerns about foodborne diseases such as Mad Cow, and dangerous strains of bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, the need for dependable—and many would argue, better—methods of food inspection, preservation, and preparation will continue to affect the food industry.


Conservation involves the controlled use of natural resources (such as minerals, water, timber, and top-soil) and the protection of wildlife and wilderness areas. President Theodore Roosevelt, an early conservationist, felt that preserving America's forests and wildlife was essential to the country's future. He set aside nearly 150 million acres of land as forest reserve. Roosevelt and other conservationists established state and national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges.

These early conservation efforts helped protect natural resources to a certain extent, but eventually the widespread pollution of the industrial age began to take its toll. Public concern about pollution, dwindling energy resources, and use of pesticides led to the environmentalist movement. Environmentalism is the concept of conserving the earth itself by protecting its capacity for self-renewal. Citizens joined together to "save the earth" through public awareness, cleanups, and the passing of environmental legislation.

In 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established as an independent agency of the U.S. government. The EPA seeks to reduce and control land, air, water, and noise pollution and to ensure safe handling and disposal of hazardous waste. The agency conducts research, sets federal standards, and monitors and enforces those standards.

In many areas residents must sort materials to be recycled. Then recycling workers prepare the materials at recycling plants. (© Bohemian Nomad Picturemakers/Corbis.)

Top-Dollar Jobs in Agribusiness, Environment, and Natural Resources
These are high-paying jobs described in this volume. The figures represent typical salaries or earnings for experienced workers.

$45,000-$90,000 • Agricultural Engineer
• Conservation Scientist
• Environmental Engineer
• Geologist
• Geophysicist
• Health and Safety Engineer
• Hydrologist
• Marine Engineer
• Meteorologist
• Mining Engineer
• Natural Sciences Manager
• Naval Architect
• Oceanographer
• Petroleum Engineer
• Veterinarian
$35,000-$60,000 • Agronomist
• Animal Scientist
• Cartographer
• Crop Scientist
• Environmental Scientist
• Farm Manager
• Fish Hatchery Manager
• Food Scientist
• Forester
• Geographer
• Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
• Park Naturalist
• Soil Scientist

It also analyzes the operations of other federal agencies for their impact on the environment.

Environmental protection efforts are increasingly focusing on energy conservation, pollution prevention, watershed protection, wetlands protection, threatened and endangered species protection, and land use and development issues as they relate to groundwater recharge, runoff, erosion, and flooding. In agriculture, wasteful irrigation practices and harmful runoff from cropland and pastureland due to the application of high levels of fertilizers and pesticides, in addition to animal wastes, have damaging effects on water quality and quantity.

Waste Management

There have been increasing concerns about the escalating amount of waste produced and the dwindling amount of available landfill space. In the late 1980s and early 1990s many areas in the United States instituted local recycling programs. By the mid-1990s "reduce, reuse, recycle" had become a commonly heard sentiment. Consumers are even urged to "precycle"—buy products in containers that can be reused or recycled. These efforts have paid off, as 2005 estimates indicate that recycling takes care of 30 percent of all trash, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Another form of waste management involves the landfills themselves. Federal regulations that went into effect in 1993 require new landfills to install leachate collection systems. Leachate is the liquid that percolates through the garbage, breaking down its composition. Collecting and recirculating the leachate through the waste accelerates the decomposition process and generates methane gas. Some scientists are hoping to harness energy from the methane gas, theorizing that landfills may eventually be mined for soil, metals, and combustible materials.

Employment Opportunities in Pollution Control and Prevention

Pollution control and prevention creates jobs in three ways. First, workers are needed to manufacture pollution control devices (such as catalytic converters) and to build and manage pollution control facilities (such as sewage treatment plants and hazardous-waste disposal plants).

Second, people are needed in the areas of pollution monitoring and cleanup. Mining and refining companies, as well as government agencies, are employing increasing numbers of air pollution control technicians, environmental technicians, meteorologists, and engineers to monitor and control various pollution levels. In the area of hazardous-waste Cultivating tomato plants is part of the nursery worker's job. (USDA-ARS.) management, for example, thousands of workers are needed to collect and safely dispose of industrial waste. In addition, scientists are needed to create and implement new, effective methods of cleaning up hazardous materials. One of the methods, called bioremediation, uses microorganisms to "eat" hazardous waste.

Third, workers are needed to help companies and communities solve pollution problems and prevent future pollution from occurring. This involves educating the public to conserve resources. Many companies are employing educators and public relations personnel to institute special programs to promote conservation. Preventing future pollution also involves developing pollution-free devices and procedures. For instance, because leakage from landfills is causing pollution, scientists are experimenting with new methods of disposal, such as high-temperature incineration and chemical neutralization. Many companies also have environmental engineers, scientists, and technicians to find ways to cut waste and reduce pollution in manufacturing processes and the workplace.


Forestry is the science of developing, caring for, and cultivating trees. Lumber companies and state and federal government agencies hire professional foresters to advise them on managing and protecting public forestlands. Foresters, in turn, are assisted by forestry technicians.

Lumber companies employ loggers to cut down trees. Sawmills hire workers to make lumber from raw logs. In companies that manufacture wood products, such as furniture and paper, technicians supervise production or act as sales representatives.

Timber Companies versus Environmentalists

Large-scale logging operations on forest land are devastating the ecological balance. Many wildlife species are now threatened or endangered. In addition, because trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, some scientists are concerned that worldwide depletion of forests could result in a shortage of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere.

In recent years lumber companies have changed their practices. As of 2006, lumber companies often practice selective cutting instead of clearing out an entire forest, and they plant seedlings to replace felled trees. They also measure tree volume, estimate timber yields, and look for insect and disease damage. Scientists and environmentalists have come to agree that clear-cutting in small areas of certain types of trees is needed to bring about a healthier forest and better wildfire management.

Despite the conservation practices of lumber companies today, the timber industry and environmentalists still clash. For example, the George W. Bush administration has finalized plans to open up protected areas, such as Sequoia National Forest in California, to new logging, and environmental groups are challenging this through lawsuits. While business and environmental interests will probably always be at odds, workable solutions must still be figured out.

In 1993 Brian Boyle, retired Public Lands Commissioner for the state of Washington, offered several solutions. He suggested that foresters must come to pursue environmental goals such as protecting sensitive lands and meeting the public's desire for recreation and green space. He also suggested that foresters and environmentalists must begin to work together to seek answers to local disputes. Perhaps his ideas hint at future roles for both foresters and environmentalists as cooperative efforts become a model for environmental and natural resources protection initiatives.


Related to forestry is the field of horticulture, the art and science of cultivating fruits, vegetables, flowers, trees, and shrubs. Some horticulturists find new ways to grow plants, or they breed new varieties. Others raise and tend plants used for ornamental purposes.

Ornamental horticulture is a growing field that includes arboriculture, floriculture, greenhouse operation and management, landscaping, and nursery and turfgrass operation and management. A heightened public interest in indoor and outdoor plants has increased the demand for the services of those in the horticulture field.


Life in the United States as we know it today depends on the consumption of an enormous amount of oil, coal, natural gas, and metals. Without these natural resources, we would have no automobiles, airplanes, radios, TVs, telephones, computers, lights, heating and air conditioning, or thousands of other products. Although the United States comprises less than 5 percent of the total world population, we consume nearly 35 percent of the world's fossil fuels.

Some experts predict that if petroleum continues to be used at the present rate, we could run out of it early in the twenty-first century. Also, many believe that because of worldwide reliance on fossil fuels for energy, carbon dioxide emissions are trapping heat in the earth's atmosphere and warming the planet. Increased agriculture, deforestation, landfills, industrial production, and mining also contribute a significant share of emissions. In 1997 the United States emitted about 20 percent of total global greenhouse gases. The phenomenon of global warming is of deep concern to many scientists, but others point out that neither its causes nor its future effects are yet known; whether reducing emissions would have a significant impact is a controversial issue. However, most people agree that the need to seek other sources of energy is great.

There is also a political component to our dependence on fossil fuels. Because the United States is forced to rely on foreign countries to export their resources to us, critics charge that makes the country vulnerable to those countries that provide us with fuels such as oil and gas. Alternative sources of fuel and conservation programs have been touted as ways to make the United States less dependent on foreign sources and more energy independent.


Oil currently provides more than 40 percent of the world's energy. It is not found worldwide, however, so many nations, including the United States, need to purchase it from other countries, particularly those in the Middle East. When the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised oil prices in the 1970s, it caused a panic in the United States as gas prices skyrocketed—a problem Americans feel in the wallet today. In 2005 crude oil prices ran more than $50 a barrel. According to BBC News, the U.S. demand rose because of "strengthening economic recovery and greater need for higher grade crude oil suitable for processing into gasoline for the fuel-hungry Sport Utility Vehicles popular with U.S. drivers." As oil companies attempt to operate with lower stocks of crude oil, the market suffers—almost panics—when supplies are threatened or interrupted. Moreover, instability in the Middle East, particularly in the wake of the war in Iraq that began in 2003, makes the goal of energy self-sufficiency especially desirable.

In the oil industry in the early twenty-first century, geologists and geophysicists explore new sources of petroleum and natural gas. With oil resources being depleted, these experts are searching the ocean floor and areas such as the Arctic Circle for new sources. Once oil has been discovered, petroleum engineers develop ways to remove it from the ground safely and economically. The industry hires hundreds of workers to drill and maintain oil wells, and workers are also needed to build giant pipelines, thousands of miles long, to bring oil and natural gas from the oil fields to the refineries.

Oil exploration can be controversial when it requires drilling in wilderness areas that some people would rather see undisturbed. In March 2005 the U.S. Senate voted 51–49 to take the first steps toward drilling for oil in the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), an area covering 19.6 million acres. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there could be 7.7 billion barrels of oil in the ANWR. However, many hurdles remain before drilling begins. According to an April 2005 story on MSNBC.com, environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers—two groups vigorously opposed to the bill—note that "whatever oil is there would take a decade to pump out and in any case would not reduce U.S. reliance on foreign supplies very much."

There is also concern that drilling could disturb the ANWR's fragile ecosystem. For example, in the summer months, Porcupine caribou cross over from Canada to give birth. In a story in Time magazine, David Klein, professor emeritus at the Institute of Arctic Biology, said, "Caribou will move away from oil fields as disturbance increases." The ANWR is also home to polar bears, wolves, foxes, musk oxen, snow geese, and many other species of migratory birds. However, many Alaskan natives are in favor of drilling, saying it could help the struggling economy. Industry efforts with other drilling in Alaska have reduced many environmental effects, but they have not eliminated them altogether. The ANWR drilling will likely be a controversial topic for many years to come.

Instead of searching for new sources of oil, however, some companies are looking for ways to recycle used oil. Interline Resources, a Utah-based corporation, has developed a process for re-refining used lubricating oil that will allow companies to make a profit on re-refining, even when done in small quantities. Currently only a small percentage of the 1.5 billion gallons of used oil in the United States each year is re-refined into high-quality base stock. In the future, however, new processes such as Interline's may significantly increase the amount of reused oil.

Natural Gas

Natural gas has become increasingly popular. In contrast to petroleum, natural gas possesses "clean fuel" characteristics. Sulfur, which contributes to the formation of acid rain, can be removed easily from natural gas. In addition, natural gas emits fewer toxic substances when burned. Natural gas also has great potential as an alternative fuel for vehicles. The question is whether there are enough reserves to make natural gas the alternative fuel of choice. High hopes for hydrogen-powered cars and trucks are driving significant research among major automakers around the world. Hydrogen is extremely flammable, however, and very expensive to process. But sufficient reserves are not an issue with hydrogen, which is the most abundant element in the universe.


Coal is becoming more important. One advantage of coal is that the United States has plenty of it, enough to approach self-sufficiency in energy. At present production rates, U.S. coal reserves would last more than 250 years.

Summer Jobs in Agribusiness, Environment, and Natural Resources


Many jobs in farming become available in the summer months when crops are ready for harvest. Contact:

  • local farms
  • farmers' cooperatives
  • farm laborers' unions
  • agricultural supply firms
Sources of Information

National Council of Agricultural Employers
1112 Sixteenth St. NW, Ste. 920
Washington, DC 20036

Natural Future Farmers of America Organization National FFA Center
P.O. Box 68960
6060 FFA Dr.
Indianapolis, IN 46268-0960


Summer jobs are available for guides, interns, forestry aides, range management workers, park naturalists, and instructors. Contact:

  • local parks and environmental centers
  • government agencies
  • timber companies
  • summer camps
  • environmental conservation organizations
Sources of Information

National Wildlife Federation
11100 Wildlife Center Dr.
Reston, VA 20190-5362


Manufacturers often need extra help during the summer when fresh fruits and vegetables are available. Ice cream manufacture also increases with summer demand. Contact:

  • food corporations
  • manufacturers
  • industry associations
  • unions
Sources of Information

Dairy Management Inc.
10255 W. Higgins Rd., Ste. 900
Rosemont, IL 60018-5616

National Food Processors Association
1350 I St. NW, Ste. 300
Washington, DC 20005


Summer jobs are available in logging, nursery work, and landscaping. Contact:

  • logging firms
  • nurseries
  • landscaping firms
  • local parks
Sources of Information

American Nursery & Landscape Association
1000 Vermont Ave. NW, Ste. 300
Washington, DC 20005-4914

Instead of mining coal manually and in batches, companies in 2006 are switching to equipment for continuous, automatic mining of coal. A computerized pick selects and cuts different qualities of coal. To help reduce acid rain, the new machines could be programmed to select low-sulfur, rather than high-sulfur, coal. Automatic mining can produce a 40-percent increase in coal output with virtually no waste. In addition, coal miners, always at risk from explosions, fires, and cave-ins, would suffer fewer accidents with the new machines.

The disadvantage of coal is that, unlike natural gas, it is not a clean-burning fuel. When burned, coal releases carbon dioxide and sulfur into the air. However, a new type of coal that is low in sulfur, metals, and ash was discovered in Indonesia. This coal burns so cleanly that sulfur control would not even be necessary. It remains to be seen if the United States and the rest of the world will tap Indonesia's coal resources as a way to solve both an energy and a pollution problem.

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear power is another energy option. The nuclear energy program in the United States is the largest in the world. Nuclear power plants provide a great deal of the U.S. energy supply; it meets with resistance from many people, however, because plutonium is toxic and its radioactive waste is stored on Earth for generations.

Scientists continue to experiment with nuclear fusion—the combining of two light elements to form a heavier atom. Nuclear fusion has great potential because the earth contains abundant resources of natural lithium, the fuel needed for the process. If nuclear fusion experiments are successful, energy problems may be solved for numerous future generations of people. However, nuclear fusion is many years away from becoming a viable energy source.

Metal Mining

Metal mining refers to extracting ores such as silver, gold, copper, iron, and zinc from the earth. Although the U.S. metal mining industry appeared to be dying in the 1980s, the industry has recovered. The United States is a world leader in silver production. The Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah is the largest surface excavation in the world. The mine reached its size with the help of modern technology—large-scale excavation equipment and huge grinding mills, controlled by computers, that can crush thousands of tons of ore each day. Also located in Utah is the only mine in the world that was built to extract gallium and germanium as principal products. These two relatively rare metals are becoming increasingly important in the manufacture of semiconductor materials and devices.


The world's oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams provide both food sources and opportunities for recreation. Fishing (commercial and sport) has become a complex industry, employing thousands of workers.

Problems in Commercial Fishing

The history of American commercial fishing has been a cycle of highs and lows. Before 1976, Japanese, Russian, Norwegian, and German trawlers fished in U.S. coastal waters, angering American fishers. The foreign trawlers easily harvested millions of tons of fish. Then in 1976 Congress passed the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act. This gave the United States control of the fishing waters from three to two hundred miles out from the coastline. Management of this area, referred to as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), is handled by eight regional fisheries councils whose members come mainly from the industry. Each council has the power to set quotas for the commercial fish species living within its jurisdiction and to prepare recovery plans when it has determined that overfishing is depleting stocks. Foreign trawlers must now have permission from the councils to fish in these waters.

The Magnuson Act, which Congress renewed in 1989 (and amended in 1996 to protect "essential fish habitat"), was successful in reducing the foreign catch and increasing the American catch. U.S. fishers experienced a boom, but the boom did not last. With better-equipped boats, fishers brought up larger hauls in less time. Increased harvesting depleted the fish supply, especially the more valuable stock. Pollution and destruction of water habitats also greatly lowered the number and variety of edible fish. Because there were too many boats for the number of available fish, the industry became depressed again.

Experts say that in order to reverse this cycle, the fishing industry needs better management. The number of fishing boats should be limited and licensed for different purposes. Many fishers, however, bristle at suggestions that their freedom be limited.

Fish Farming

Aquaculture—or fish farming—refers to the raising of water animals in the same way that farmers raise livestock. Huge tanks on fish farms hold thousands of fish. The fish are fed a controlled diet and cared for just like livestock. Although aquaculture is currently a fairly small industry in the United States, new technologies and methods may increase yields in the future and promote growth in the field. In the late 1990s only about 10 percent of the U.S. fish harvest came from aquaculture. However, aquaculture produces almost all of certain commercially marketed species, including rainbow trout, crawfish, and catfish.

Some countries are currently trying new inshore fish-rearing methods. Japan, for example, has successfully promoted growth in the numbers of some species by building artificial reefs. The country's inshore fishing yield has nearly doubled since the building of twenty-five hundred artificial reefs along the coastline. In addition, scientists are experimenting with cultivated water animals in an attempt to produce faster-growing, more nutritious, or better-tasting varieties.


This volume covers dozens of different types of jobs, such as working with soil, raising animals, processing and marketing food products, helping to keep the environment clean and healthy, preserving natural resources, and extracting fossil fuels and minerals from the earth. Some traditional jobs are experiencing difficulty. At the same time, new and exciting jobs are opening up in the areas of environmentalism, energy development, and water resources.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesAgribusiness, Environment, and Natural Resources