KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, paying it forward in agriculture means passing “…down the privilege of what you’ve been able to do in this state and this country.” Increasingly, however, it’s difficult for industry stakeholders to draw younger workers into the industry, and this does not bode well for the future of agriculture in the United States.
Speaking to an audience at the Agriculture Outlook Forum on Sept. 28, hosted by the Agriculture Business Council of Kansas City and AgriPulse, Parson and other representatives of government and industry explained the pressing issues facing different segments of the agriculture industry. Among the recurring themes was industry’s need for a diverse and skilled workforce to compete in the global markets of the future.
But the agriculture industry will need to take its place in line — a whole host of industries have plenty of jobs and not enough skilled workers to perform the work. The trend is likely to persist even as consumer spending, and the economy, continues to improve.
“I would say right now, households look to be in pretty good shape,” Esther George, Kansas City Federal Reserve president, explained in her overview of the US economy. “Jobs are plentiful right now; wages are rising and are staying ahead of inflation — that’s a good thing.”
So, individuals looking for work have many employers from which to choose, while employers must compete for the best and brightest employees. Recruiting is crucial for the industry, according to Brian Sikes, corporate vice president, Cargill.
“We don’t have people that understand what we do,” he said, “and it’s hard to get people back into our business, and there’s never been a more exciting time to be a part of agriculture.
“Anything you can do with Amazon or Google, you can do in this business,” Sikes added. “Those are the same skills we need — the technology, the data science, the people that write [computer] code — we need the MBAs, we need the finance majors. We have got to make sure that we have the pipeline of talent to do this business sustainably.”
Parson, who is a cattle producer, said the only way agriculture will remain competitive on the global stage is through supporting education and through advances in technology and science. He noted that anyone earning a degree in almost any segment of the agriculture industry has “...a job waiting on you if you graduate from any of our 10 universities.”
“Those of us who are truly in the agriculture business do not farm like our fathers and like our grandparents did,” Parson said. “We’ve become better at it; we’ve become more efficient at it, and we’ve become much more aware of the business side of farming than just the idea of ‘I love to farm’.”
Sikes suggested recruiting beyond the usual sources to develop a more diverse workforce in agriculture. “We ought to start by going to different schools,” he said.
“We need to be compelling,” he added. “We need to go to the right places.”