Careers in ag

There’s a lot more to a career in agriculture than sloshing through a cattle yard or driving a combine down a cornfield.

While that’s a crucial part of the business, the range of career opportunities in agriculture has grown to include both blue-collar and white-collar occupations.

Erika Osmundson is director of marketing and communication for AgCareers.com, who said they have a range of openings that need to be filled.

“We posted 50,000 open jobs in agriculture on our site last year,” she said. “While production agriculture is a key to the industry, there’s so much more to agriculture in terms of careers.

“It’s a whole lot more than ‘cows, plows, and sows,’” she said with a laugh. “We’re still fighting the misconception by a lot of people who think careers in agriculture mean crop or livestock farming.”

Osmundson said her organization conducts an analysis of the job postings at the end of each year. One of the white-collar career options that do well is in sales and marketing. For someone more into science-based careers, there are agronomy and research careers.

“Animal health is another area that tends to have a lot of career opportunities,” she added. “However, when you look at the options that tend to get younger people excited, you have to focus on technology. It just keeps growing and evolving within the industry.”

The ag technology sector is growing with the use of drones, GPS technology, genetics and tractability projects.

“Ag needs software developers, IT folks, engineers and more — and the need just keeps expanding for qualified people,” Osmundson said.

To give people a better idea of what’s available, the company has done more than 250 profiles of different career ideas within the agriculture industry and posted them on the website. The work was done in conjunction with the Farm Service Agency to give young people ideas as to what’s out there.

“We’re finding out that kids are making career choices earlier than ever,” she said.

Those profiles talk about the typical responsibilities for each career opportunity, what kind of education is needed, as well as the long-term outlook for the job. The No. 1 thing people want to know, of course, is what different career opportunities offer in pay. Osmundson said people might be surprised at what they can earn.

“Even the production and skilled trade jobs are seeing their salaries rise because of the demand for workers,” Osmundson said. “If you look at the business-focused roles, such as IT and finance, we’re competitive with other industry sectors.”

When it comes to the education level needed to build a career in the ag sector, it ranges from two-year degrees at a community college to a four-year degree from a college or university, depending on the career path you take. Trade schools are another route to go. There are even industries that will help out with the cost of schooling to get young people into their business.

The Iowa-Nebraska Equipment Dealers Association has been offering to help students with the cost of education for over a decade. Will Rogers is the director of government affairs and education for the association. He said 2020 will be the 13th year they’ve offered the Andrew Goodman Scholarship.

“It’s a matching scholarship,” he said. “For every dollar a dealership puts in to help sponsor a student, we’ll put in two dollars, up to a total of $2,000. It’s a renewable scholarship for any student a dealership wants to sponsor.”

About 80% of the scholarship applicants are going to a technical school, but that’s not a requirement, he said. Many applicants are community college students.

The scholarships can be used to study everything from mechanical repair to agricultural business. Over the years, the association has awarded a total of 321 scholarships and approximately $650,000 of tuition assistance between the dealerships and the association.

“The money can be used for tuition, room and board, books, as well as basically anything they have to write a check for out of their account,” Rogers said.

Many community college students need tools for class, and they can cost up to $3,000. It’s one of the few things the school doesn’t provide and one many typical scholarships don’t cover.

“This one helps them fill that need,” Rogers said.

AgCareers.com takes a close look at the educational requirements for the many careers they offer. The business-level careers will require a four-year degree.

“The demand for skilled workers in the trades, as well as the production side of things, is huge,” Osmundson said.

Those types of roles don’t always require a four-year degree, she said. Many jobs require a two-year associate-level degree or certificate of some type.

“I think there’s plenty of opportunity for young people out there, regardless of what their education level looks like,” she said.

Chad Smith can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.