As the calendar has turned to May and June all attention has turned towards planting and for the many high school seniors around the country: graduation. This post is an open letter to all high school seniors who are trying to determine their path into adulthood and their future careers. College, trade schools, the workforce, or some other plans lie before you and if you are still undecided I ask you to consider a career in agriculture. I am going to tell you a secret that I wish someone had told me: agriculture jobs are everywhere, in every category of study, in every degree field. It does not matter if you are a would be first generation farmer or an eighth generation farmer, there is a place in agriculture for you if you are willing to learn and explore your options.
My Education and Story
As many of you know, I have dreamed of being a farmer since I was 6 years old. I have previously written about my career path and some of the changes I would have made if I knew what I did now (linked here). I have a Bachelors of Arts in History as well as a minor from political science from the College of Wooster. I later added two different Masters in Business Administration in Operations Management and Mediation Dispute Resolution. None of these degrees were on my “short list” when I graduated from high school.
When I graduated from high school I wanted to pursue a degree in International Relations. I abandoned those plans my first semester after I took Introduction to International Relations. I have a short list of regrets in life – but leaving that degree is honestly one of them. I love International Relations, I still do, however I made a freshman mistake when I picked the class that started the latest. I picked the professor who had a class at 10AM instead of 9AM. I picked the class with a professor that was not recommended by my upper class-men volleyball teammates. The 9AM class was taught by a professor who ended up being on my short list of all time favorite professors. If I had taken his class I can almost assure you I would have graduated with a degree in International Relations. Sorry Dr. Lantis.
Most of my time was still spent brainstorming ways to stay in agriculture, unfortunately I thought the options were limited. I next decided if I could not be a farmer I would be a plant breeder, so the following semester I enrolled in Intro to Biology. I am terrible at science, awful in fact. I still struggle with science and any form of complex math, it’s not my thing. I actually failed that class. It took the rest of my college career to recover my GPA from that semester. So now I was back to square one.
I ended up pursuing history and political science (I was actually only 3 Independent Study classes – which is a major component of Wooster – short of a BA in Political Science). I found my other two top three favorite professors and took as many of their classes as I possibly could. Thank you Dr. Roche and Dr. Krain. After college I decided to pursue a joint degree program, Juris Doctor and MBA. I had dreams of being an international commodities trader. I honestly do not really know if that is a thing, but I had goals to be the next John Henry. John Henry is the owner of my beloved Boston Red Sox, son of soybean farmers, and had made his fortune in commodity trading. If I could not have fields, I dreamed of international travel, and a corner office overlooking downtown Boston or New York. Coincidentally I was not accepted into law school. I had fallen in love with my job at UPS by then anyway and several years later pursued my MBAs.
So what would I have done differently? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. It is hard to re-write history because all of our lives are intertwined into the decisions we make – even the seemingly small decisions we make 10, 15, or 20 years ago. But I wish I had known all of the different options there are for careers in agriculture. Agriculture is rooted in farmers, without farmers there would not be agriculture, but without all of these support careers – farmers would not be nearly as successful as we are now.
Ag-Careers provides a snapshot of the potential careers and current job listings in agriculture and the list is extensive. They have their careers broken down into pathways that includes: agricultural business pathways, agricultural mechanics pathways, animal science pathways, environmental services pathways, food science pathways, natural resources pathway, and plant science pathways. These seven pathways include careers that range from soil agronomist, agronomy sales and management, forestry, R&D technician, engineers, occupational health & human safety, toxicologist, veterinarian, herdsman, diary farm worker, feedlot manager, welder, mechanic, career counselor, risk management specialist, financial adviser, social media strategist, grain merchandiser, public policy analyst, or agriculture liaison for Congressional members, USDA careers, or careers on the House and Senate Agricultural Committee.
This list does not even begin to scratch the surface of agricultural careers. We are an industry that runs deeply across the globe and every career plays a vital role in protecting our industry. In 2016 agriculture was responsible for 1% of GDP in the United States and 21.4 million jobs. Those jobs represent 11% of the total employment in the United States.
My short list of dream jobs:
Bureau Chief Montana Wheat and Barley Committee
CEO of National Association of Wheat Growers
Vice President of US Wheat Associates
Head of the Wheat Division for Bunge, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, or one of the many large grain shippers and suppliers (not the exact title).
Head of the Agriculture Division for Burlington Northern Sante Fe (not the exact title).
Careers in agriculture are abundant and cover almost every degree field. If your passion is agriculture, or if you have an interest in agriculture and hope it develops into a passion, I only have one piece of advice: follow your dreams. Agriculture is a crucial industry and has a place for everyone within it as well as every type of educational background and degree. As I scroll through my Twitter feed I see hundreds of different careers communicating under the #agtwitter hashtag. Everyone of them belongs, every one of them has a place in agriculture, and every one of them is important to agriculture. There are farmers, ranchers, grain merchandisers, NRCS Program Technicians, marketing managers, project managers, program managers, consumer engagement directors, videographers, photographers, producers, policy analysts, agronomists, soil scientists and many more. The sky is truly the limit and anything is possible in agriculture.
** I should note that while this post was focused on high school seniors pursuing college degrees – there are hundreds of different ways to gain the experience necessary to have a career in agriculture. Some careers do require advance degrees, many require trade school, and others also simply require a high school diploma/GED. The education requirements are as diverse as our industry. **