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The wide world of agricultural jobs

At best, non-farmers only have a vague understanding of career opportunities

I was chatting with someone the other day who got visibly excited when I mentioned the variety of soybeans I would be growing this year. I loved that. Her farm grows the same beans, and they’ve been impressed with the results. This is my life now, I thought, before getting into specifics with this person about yields, seeding dates, and other nerdy things. It was a fantastic conversation, and one that spurred me to reflect on how I wouldn’t have been able to hold my own in such a chat a year or two ago.

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Three years ago I was someone who dabbled in agriculture. Now, it excites me, and I do more than dabble. My wife, too. This year, she’ll be running a CSA (community supported agriculture) garden, delivering fresh, in-season vegetables to a handful of people. Plus, I’m pretty sure we’ll be getting more animals. I heard mention of goats and donkeys the other day. I didn’t press for details.

My off-farm life is becoming more ag related. I’m comfortable with that. It makes sense. It was bound to happen. It’s become a life I want to enjoy, as well.

The opportunities surrounding the industry are ones I promote to everyone on the outside who is looking for a career change.

Attending a Manitoba Farm Writers and Broadcasters Association meeting, I heard from ag insiders that in the next few years, there will be tens of thousands of vacancies in the industry, in Canada alone. The biggest challenge companies and farms looking for employees face is getting the word out to qualified candidates.

“Yeah, okay, cool, but I don’t really want be a labourer on a farm,” is something I hear often, when I’ve attempted to take the wheel of my friends’ careers (something I have no business doing, by the way).

The exact percentage escapes me — perhaps I never knew it — but only a small amount of the current and projected openings will be on-farm labour jobs. Most of current and anticipated vacancies will be in office towers, research facilities, or posts allowing you to work from home with willingness to travel.

Employers are scrambling, trying to figure out the best place to market these openings. Which industries cultivate skills in people that are transferable to agriculture? More than you’d think, I learned. But it’s an interesting question to think about.

The military came up, and if that presenter followed through, there will be marketing campaigns aimed at bringing veterans on board to fill posts. Military training often involves communications, technology use, and problem solving skills mixed with intense physicality. At first, I found the connection weak. But less so on second thought.

More and more eyes will turn to agriculture over the next decade. Issues involving food, genetics, livestock, and grain farm practices are only growing. These are not just headlines for farmers to click on. They are above-the-fold stories in newspapers. And while it’s still a surprise for some to hear that the agriculture industry has a use for skillsets previously limited to urban environments, people are starting to clue in. Most of those who’ve jumped into ag later in life, working on policy, research or other facets love it. The work is interesting, diverse, and growing. Fast-forward five years and the crystal ball gets murky. I’d guess an increase in vacancies and an increase in interest.

The amount of jobs available is new to most people, insiders and out. Jobs in agriculture means working on a farm. And working on a farm means wading through manure while wearing overalls and chewing on a stock of wheat. Wrong. You know this. You know that farming requires much more than that, and agriculture encompasses an interesting spectrum of jobs.

But there’s more going on here. There’s more to ag companies and larger farms hoping to attract the attention of candidates who may not necessarily know much about the industry: fresh thinking, the specifics of which I can’t properly articulate.

What’s at work behind such a lazy phrase as “fresh thinking” is this: there’s lots we can learn from how the non-farming, non-agriculture industries of this world function. This phenomenon isn’t unique to agriculture. Every sector, every industry benefits from wide-eyed newcomers.

“Some of the best farmers around are the ones who came into it after doing something else.” I heard this, and quickly agreed, in part because I came back to the farm after having done something else for a decade and a half. But also because no matter what the industry, myopia is something you have to intentionally rally against. It happens to everyone, and it’s a terrible way to live.

This is why I urge my journalist friends to consider agriculture. This is why I urge anyone stuck in a job that no longer seems fulfilling to consider jumping ship to a sector that is growing and making tangible changes to the world we live in.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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