From the Editor: Considering careers in agriculture
September 22, 2021 By Stefanie Croley
I recently listened in on a virtual roundtable discussion on the future of labour in agriculture, hosted by my colleagues at our sister publications, Greenhouse Canada and Fruit & Vegetable magazines. The discussion focused specifically on horticulture and greenhouse production, but many of the issues and suggestions presented – and the insight shared by the diverse group of grower, educator and industry panellists – are reflected in the field crop production sector as well.
At one point in the conversation, panellists were asked about attracting new folks outside of the industry to a career in agriculture. Pandemic aside, attracting and retaining new employees has been an industry-wide challenge for many years. Kim Wickwire, a horticulture instructor at Olds College, shared that enrolment numbers in many of the college’s agriculture classes and programs were continuously growing, but there seemed to be barriers in turning that education into a long-term career, including money (and the high cost of living) and misconceptions about what a career in agriculture actually entails.
While it’s encouraging to see the increased interest in ag education, retaining the interest – and bridging the education-to-career gap – is perhaps a greater challenge. Tania Humphrey, vice-president of research and development at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Vineland, Ont., commented on the benefits of a career in agriculture that are often overlooked by those with no farming background.
“Agriculture needs to attract [not only] people who grew up on a farm, or who did an ag science degree or program. We [also] want the people in computer science and food and nutrition and other [disciplines],” Humphrey said. “[The sector is] not just about sitting on a tractor . . . there are so many types of jobs and so much need for people of all backgrounds and disciplines. [Agriculture] is technologically advanced, it’s interesting, it’s dynamic, it’s recession-proof, there’s economic growth…all these things that young people should find attractive, but I think they’re unaware.”
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t consider a career in agriculture when I was in school, simply because I associated it with working on a farm, which wasn’t the right fit for me. But Humphrey is right – there is so much more to a career in ag besides working on a farm. This is reflected in each issue of Top Crop Manager, but this one especially, which focuses on plant breeding, genetics and research work done by seed and chemical companies and federal and provincial research partners. Outside of the farm and lab, there are exciting roles in sales and marketing, engineering and mechanics, and even in media. The next time you’re encouraging someone to consider a career in agriculture, remind them that while life on the farm is pretty great – there’s a whole other world of ag options beyond the farm gate, too.