A LOVE FOR AGRICULTURE
compiled by Agri Marketing editors
It is hard to put into words the feeling about agriculture that most in the industry share. It is this feeling that motivates us to work with producers and agricultural professionals in a rocky industry that constantly changes. We are driven by something that can only be described as a love for farming.
Many young graduates and some seasoned professionals are asking themselves, why bother with a career in agriculture? As applicants face a tight job market in 2002, it may be easier for some to turn from their roots and assume a position outside of agriculture. Yet others are extremely determined to work in the industry that they know and love.
"Agriculture has become a wide-ranging opportunity for people in every discipline of professional life. We need scientists, marketers, journalists and bankers," says Mick Sibbel, president of Ayres Kahler, Lincoln, Neb. "Agriculture has embraced technology but is also well-grounded in the basic needs of human life. Mankind will always need food, clothing and shelter. It is one of the most complicated, yet one of the simplest industries in which to seek a career."
Everyone has different reasons for working in agriculture. But one that surfaces quite often is the quality of people associated with the industry. "The agricultural industry is a well-respected industry with broad and fulfilling career opportunities," says Mark Herrmann, U.S. seed business manager for Asgrow and DEKALB seed, Monsanto Co., St. Louis. "It is rooted in good clientele who maintain high ideals with strong character and solid work ethics."
And some choose a career in agriculture for its proximity to the farm. "Many of us are 'wanna-be farmers.' We want to be close to the farm, we want the quality of life of a rural community and we want to deal with people that we trust," says Steve German, member-staffing specialist at GROWMARK, Inc., Bloomington, Ill.
This is a fairly accurate description of why so many people choose to work in agribusiness. After all, if you can't have your hands directly in the soil, then why not help those who do?
WHAT EMPLOYERS WANT
German oversees the placement of new hires into GROWMARK's member cooperatives in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. He says there are a few primary things that the company looks for when considering a candidate. They are:
• An agricultural or similar background, which includes internships and work history.
• Character traits such as leadership and maturity.
• Communication and organizational skills.
German explains that all of these points are essential. "We are looking for people who know agriculture, are mature beyond their years and have recognizable leadership skills. I need candidates with great work ethic, problem-solving skills and who are dependable and goal-oriented," he says.
Another factor that German says is in a class all its own is communication skills. He further explains that the ability to communicate - either written or verbally - and present oneself well is key to successful employment these days.
Lee Quarles, spokesman for Monsanto Co., agrees with German's emphasis on industry-specific experiences, such as in co-ops or internships. But he adds that Monsanto looks beyond this for candidates who are lifelong learners. "The ability to learn is essential at a company like Monsanto," he says. "The amount of information that you ascertain is amazing."
Quarles also expressed the importance of a team-oriented approach at Monsanto, whether one is working in the science or business side of the company.
Both experts advise those looking for a career in agriculture to seek ways to stand out among other candidates and add a personal touch to their correspondence. According to Quarles, Monsanto receives approximately 200 to 300 resumes per week or 11,000 in six months. Considering those numbers, candidates need to be able to sell themselves.
CHANGING FACE OF AGRICUltURE
As a high school agriculture teacher, Tony Small has counseled many young men and women on the benefits of a career in agriculture. Small, currently manager of Local Program Success for the National FFA, Indianapolis, says that he developed an appreciation for agriculture through involvement with youth programs such as 4-H and FFA. "I want agriculture to continue to remain strong in future generations," he explains. "That is why we continue to work with teachers - to assist them with keeping their programs strong on the local level."
Small believes that agriculture has a bright future, but he adds that the agriculture industry of the future may not look the way we currently view it. "In the past 20 years, I have seen agriculture really change. In the years to come, technology will become even more important in agriculture and will likely reshape the industry," he says. "But we all have to eat. That won't change."
Quarles explains that the technology side of agriculture is one of the things that keep him interested in the business. "I work in agriculture because it is fascinating," says Quarles. "The people you work with are great, and it is amazing to sit on the edge of the future of science."
Not only have the types of occupations evolved - for instance, biotechnology - but also the workforce itself. Small estimates that approximately one-third of FFA members are urban students. That demographic is growing as urban students discover career opportunities in agriculture, says Small.
THE BIG PICTURE
Älthough the results of a 1999 USDA/Purdue University study do not factor in the effects of the current economy on the agriculture job market, the report titled "Employment Opportunities for College Graduates in the Food & Agricultural Sciences - Agriculture, Forestry & Natural Resources, Veterinary Medicine" is optimistic about agriculture occupations in the near future. The reports states that employment opportunities look good through 2005 for graduates entering the fields of agriculture, forestry and natural resources, and veterinary medicine.
According to the study, more employment opportunities are expected than can be filled by the projected number of new qualified graduates. During 2000-2005, qualified U.S. food and agricultural sciences graduates are expected to reach 57,175, while the number of average annual openings are projected at 57,785.
The study also forecasts that job opportunities will continue to increase in supply and marketing of food, forest, and veterinary medical consumer products and services. "Food scientists and engineers, food and forest product sales representatives, financial mangers, information specialists, agricultural science and business teachers, landscape horticulturists, veterinary medicine specialists, plant geneticists and outdoor recreation specialists should see a strong employment market through 2005," according to the joint study.
Regardless of what is projected, the fact is that changes in agriculture will continue to create and eliminate employment opportunities. And these opportunities will continue to be filled with qualified professionals who are fascinated by the industry and feel agriculture is a part of their life that can't be replaced. AM