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Choose Your Own Bright Future, Ag Grads

Grade 12 graduates will soon need to decide what to do with the rest of their life, or at least decide if they want to learn a trade or get a degree or diploma. I’m a bit insulated from young farm men and women, but looking around I see there are a lot of jobs available now and more coming in the future.

I encourage farm kids to get a degree or diploma in agriculture. I believe you will get a good job and a good future for several reasons.

Demand for aggie (or agro, for equal opportunity) grads has grown in the last 10 years and I don’t see any reason for that to end. Who hires ag grads? That’s easy to answer: banks, credit unions, provincial and federal farm credit agencies, the publishing business (the editor of this fine magazine is a University of Manitoba diploma grad), the radio business, law firms, accounting firms, individual farmers, grain companies, fertilizer companies, provincial and federal governments, farm organizations and the list goes on. I’ve heard rural branches of Manitoba’s provincial extension offices prefer to hire ag grads for office staff.

I think children ofGrainews readers likely have an extra edge because most have a farm background, which is another plus in the job market.

BRINGING KNOWLEDGE AND ENERGY TO THE FARM

When I was scrutineer recently for the CWB elections, I met a young fellow with Meyers Norris Penny who worked with farmers on their farm development program. What a great job. Last summer, I heard of several farmers who hired an ag grad to be their crop specialist. When you spread the cost of hiring someone like this over 10,000 acres of crop, the cost of that skill is very low per acre and per bushel. If we have 2,000 large farms in Western Canada, there could easily be 1,000 such jobs which didn’t exist a decade ago. And if we don’t have 2,000 large farms now we soon will have.

The same goes for ranches. If a ranch is running 400 to 1,000 cows, the cost of an ag grad livestock specialist with a nutrition or forage background can be quite low per cow. I’d venture to say the farming industry will be short of qualified ag grads for years to come.

These jobs could easily match the salary and benefits of any job and the young people would have the added benefit of living in rural Canada.

I’m not trying to pick on farm managers. But the days of having

a “hired man” are coming to an end. As are the days of paying low wages and no benefits. In days gone by, hired help had to put up with seasonal work, low wages, no benefits, long hours and a limited future. That is changing. Farmers who don’t offer good salaries, benefits and perhaps competitive housing will find they can’t hire qualified help.

Over the past 15 years or so, many expanding farmers simply hired the farmers who came with the farm they bought or rented. If an expanding farmer took over the land once farmed by eight or 10 smaller farmers, there likely was at least one qualified farm machinery operator in the bunch. This supply of farm labour is going to shrink.

I can see the day when a thinking farmer will meet a young grad working for a supply company or bank and offer them a competitive job on his farm. This happens in other industries all the time now and will happen in farming.

Any young farm kid who wants to live and work in rural Canada can pick his or her spot, choosing what kind of farm to work on and in which part of Canada. But I would like young grads to add to their qualifications.

So besides the regular job as crop or livestock specialist on the farm, what skills can help make a young grad an attractive employee for a farmer or rancher in Canada?

Skills such as carpentry, welding, and bookkeeping are great second skills for farm employees, as is having a commercial truck licence and knowing how to make money with stocks.

Imagine having a young employee who could inspect your crop or manage your herd, update your farm income and expenses, weld a broken part, then get on the BlackBerry or laptop and buy some stocks and sell some calls in your trading

account. How much would that kind of person be worth to a large farmer or rancher? A lot.

BUYING IN

Here’s a radical thought for a farmer wanting to attract top talent: Why not give the young grad a piece of the action? Why not include part of the farm growth as part of the compensation package? Many businesses have employee share-purchase programs where the employee pays part of the shares and the company matches 50:50 or 60:40. Why shouldn’t a farm employee receive something similar?

Instead of shares, maybe it could involve part ownership of a quarter section or a slice of the grain or calf crop. These are the sort of creative perks that would help attract and keep a thinking young grad. Imagine when the young grad meets some of his fellow graduates and tells them that his net worth went up $5,000 because he earns part of the capital gain on some farmland or because of his growing share of the cow herd.

Where an employee lives can be an issue. Home ownership is a key part of wealth accumulation and something that’s not available if housing is provided as part of the compensation package. This is where having some sort of ownership plan could offset the gains the couple wouldn’t have because they live in a house provided by the farm.

I don’t think I know of any farmer who provides a car or truck for an employee’s personal use, although I suspect there are some. But living on a farm adds to your transportation costs. The cost of the vehicle can be a direct farm business expense and only a tax benefit for the employee. Alternatively, you may want to offer a car allowance to offset the cost your employee incurs driving to town for shopping or the kids to music, hockey and so on.

WORK/LIFE BALANCE

What about married or soon-to- be married staff? This question raises both a problem and an opportunity. How does a farmer improve the odds that his top-notch trained ag grad is happy to stay with the farm?

Some larger operations are able to find a spot for both husband and wife. You have to be confident that both are qualified, or at least can be trained, before you commit to hiring both partners. And you will have to work parental leave into your thinking. Yes, this sort of situation can create a management problem but maybe that is a trade-off with having committed employees that stick around for the long term.

OTHER ADDED BENEFITS

Governments offer farmers a chance to contribute to farm income programs in which the governments match money a farmer puts into his account. Why not such a plan for an employee? The Tax Free Savings Account is a perfect place to start. The employee and his employer could share the $5,000 annual deposit as part of a taxable compensation or bonus program.

Then the young people can learn how to buy good stocks, how to sell covered calls if that becomes the strategy and the knowledge can be transferred and applied to the boss’s account. Or maybe the boss knows this stuff and can assist the employee in this regard. It would certainly give both something to talk about besides farming and it could build net worth and knowledge.

Again, imagine the young employee talking to his friends and telling them the boss put a matching $2,500 into his TFSA.

So opportunities abound, both for young farm men and women who love the industry and want a career in agriculture, if not in the direct farming business, and for farmers whose business has been held back by labour shortages. A diploma or degree in agriculture could help young people work their way into a creative and profitable job in an industry with a future.

Andyismostlyretired.Hepublishesa newslettercalledStocksTalkwherehe explainsindetailwhathedoeswithhis investmentadayortwoafterhebuysorsells. Ifyouwanttoreadhisnewsletterfreefora montheithersendhimanemailto [email protected] orgotoGoogle,typeinStocksTalk. net,clickonfreemonth,clickonforms,fill outfourlinesandclicksubmit.

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I’d venture to say the farming industry will be short of qualified ag grads for years to come

About the author

Freelance Writer

Andy was a former Grainews editor and long-time Grainews columnist. He passed away in February 2017.

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