Jessica Queare grew up on a 100-acre farm in central Indiana, raising sheep, goats and pigs. But she doesn't think traditional farming is in her future.
"I don't want to make my complete profit in life and living in farming," said Queare, an officer in Indiana's Future Farmers of America who hopes to become an agricultural lawyer.
Queare, 19, and scores of others who have grown up on farms are eyeing new career paths that allow them to stay connected with their family history without the backbreaking labor.
Educators and agriculture leaders said they hope emerging careers in agriculture will spark renewed interest in the industry that some once feared was dying.
"There will always be production agriculture," said Renee McKee, Indiana's 4-H program leader. "There are more people in the middle today -- between production and the consumer -- and that's where many of these young people end up, careerwise."
Young people's interest in agriculture is showing a resurgence despite an 8 percent drop in the number of U.S. farms over the past three decades. In Indiana, the number of farms has decreased about 30 percent in the same period.
Across the country, membership in the Indianapolis-based National FFA Organization is at a 22-year high, with more than 490,000 participants. Universities, meanwhile, saw a 79 percent increase in the number of students earning degrees in agriculture and natural resources between 1970 and 2002, according to the National Association of Agricultural Educators.
Many of those students are taking nontraditional routes to farming.
Jay Jackman, executive director of the educators' group, said enrollment is increasing in agribusiness and agricultural marketing programs, while the number of students studying traditional areas such as agronomy is decreasing.
"We still have tremendous numbers of people that are preparing themselves to work in agriculture," Jackman said. "But they're not working in farms and ranches. They're working in marketing, sales, packaging and food sciences."
Nathan Lehman, 18, is a good example. He hopes to earn a degree in agribusiness management and technology before he starts working at his family's grain elevator.
"It's going to improve how I'll market my grain, how I'll go about handling different people and different landlords," he said. "Having a basic degree is almost essential."
Michael Boehlje, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, said farming is shifting to a profession, rather than a way of life.
"To be a successful farmer today, you have to have manager skills and do the physical work, but you also have to have the general manager skills to work as a chief executive officer and manage the people and the financial side of a business," Boehlje said.