With 2015 wrapping up, it’s now time to look ahead and plan for 2016.

2016 Ag Networking Calendar Blog PostNetworking is essential to success in any industry, and agriculture is no exception. Determining the cost/benefit of networking opportunities can be tricky, so to make it a little easier for you, I've developed this 2016 Ag Networking Calendar.

I went through each month and thought “if I could attend one, and ONLY one event every month this coming year, where would I go?” My answers to that question are below. You will notice I limited my list to just events in the U.S.

I don’t expect anyone to attend ALL of these (I certainly cannot), but I highly recommend going to at least one of them. Pick the event that best fits your interests, geography, and calendar. Let me know how it goes!

Few situations are more frustrating than applying for jobs and never hearing word back. Not too long ago, we posted a video about this problem. One of the reasons that this occurs, however, is because the applicant lacks the proper experience that the job requires.

Most of us have encountered this problem: the only way to get the job is experience, but the only way to get experience is to get the job. If you are applying for positions such as “Sales Manager”, “Senior Merchandiser”, or “Marketing Director” without the proper qualifications you will likely never hear back after submitting your resume.

So what do you do about it? You could just throw your hands up in the air and take the next available job that comes your way. OR, you could create a plan and take the first steps toward your ideal career.

The year was 2007. I graduated from the University of California, Davis with a degree in Crop Science and Management with no job. My future wife had moved to Texas for veterinary school and I had procrastinated on deciding how I would start my career, and my time had expired.

Most of my friends had jobs waiting for them in California. My significant other lived out-of-state and I was always the type of person who wanted to be different, I lined up a couple of job interviews in Texas and the Midwest. I loaded up all my belongings in my pickup truck, and headed out to discover what my future had in store for me. There were plenty of job openings for graduates with an agricultural degree, but I still needed to decide what exactly I wanted. Did I want to live in Texas or stay in California? Should I limit my search to a really specific geography like College Station where she was going to Veterinary school? Or should I look at larger cities that would have more opportunities? What type of job did I really want anyway?

Not long ago, before the drought in places like California and Canada and the relentless rains we have been experiencing in parts of the delta and midwest, it seems the "ag talk" was dominated by divisions in the industry. I'm referring to debates about organic vs conventional, GMO vs Non-GMO, small vs large, etc.

My Facebook and Twitter feeds were non-stop propaganda advocating one type of agriculture being superior to another, and poking fun at, or worse, anyone who "did ag" differently.

Recent events have proven that the one true threat to agriculture is NOT going to come from within our industry. Everyone in production agriculture experiences the same risks and challenges such as weather, nutrition, the environment, pests, public perception, sustainability, marketing,  etc. This goes for whether your customer is the local elevator or the local farmers market. 

"Sales? I don't really want to be a Salesman." I can remember using these words in a conversation with a trusted adviser my senior year of college. For some reason the notion of being a Salesman carried this persona of someone that nobody wants around and someone who has to trick their customers into buying from them. But this could not be further from the truth! Turns out I had no idea what agricultural sales was all about and how important this role is to farmers and agribusiness as an industry. Now that I have spent eight years working with customers as a grain & feed merchandiser and manager, I now know that good sales associates serve as brand managers for the companies they represent and trusted advisers for their customers. With heavy demands on the time of farmers, ranchers, and agribusiness managers, these individuals rely heavily on the sales representatives that call upon them. A successful long term bond often ends up becoming more of a business partnership than the "cold calling" salesman image I once had in college. Hopefully that helps put the profession into perspective for you.

When I was a nine year old 4-H member my dad convinced me that I needed to learn how to judge livestock. He seemed convinced it was my only chance of playing a college "sport". Turns out he was right, but what I got out of livestock judging was so much more than that.

My 4-H club didn't have a judging team so dad got me connected with another club to learn the art of evaluating livestock. I think I went to a total of two "workouts" before the one and only contest of the year at the Santa Rosa Jr College. I had been around livestock my whole life but still mostly just followed the "bigger is better" judging philosophy. Although one piece of wisdom from my coach that still sticks to this day is that I wanted a market hog to look like an ice cream cone, meaning narrow up front (base of the cone) and wide at the hams (ice cream). Not sure if that was ever good advice but I never forgot it!

So you've gone through the process of applying for jobs you are interested in, interviewing for those jobs, and CONGRATULATIONS, you received an offer! Bad news is you have since decided that this particular job is not the right one for you. What do you do?

Even though you are turning down the job right now, you definitely do NOT want to burn a bridge. Especially not in this close-knit industry of agriculture. You never know when your paths will cross again and we at AgGrad believe that maintaining quality relationships will be one of your greatest assets throughout your career.

So how do you turn down the job offer but leave that bridge intact?

If you haven't noticed, agricultural talent is in high demand. Trends such as an aging workforce, less young people from agricultural backgrounds, and overall urbanization have not helped. We have a serious talent shortage in agribusiness that only appears to be getting worse. In addition to these trends there has recently been a lot of exciting work being done in areas such as precision agriculture, urban agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and agricultural technology. One of the things I love most about the agriculture industry is that it is very merit based. YOU CAN BE SUCCESSFUL HERE! Whether you have a college degree or not, if you are willing to work hard, treat people with respect, learn and grow, you can have a long and very successful career in ANY ONE of the below categories no matter who you are, where you're from, or what your educational background may be.

Most of us love agriculture but let's be honest.....we're not doing this as a community service. Agriculture is a business that sells products and services to real customers with real dollars that have real preferences. I cringe when I hear my colleagues in agriculture accusing a customer that wants to buy organic as "uneducated" or poking fun at "alternative" forms of production. Equally, I feel uneasy when I hear wild claims demonizing GMOs or "industrial agriculture". This infighting between various forms of agriculture is counterproductive and damaging.

When it comes down to it, the verdict is ultimately up to the CONSUMER. All anyone is doing in production agriculture or agribusiness is meeting customer demand. You may not think the customer should pay money to buy organic, or GMOs, or imported apples, or whatever. But the fact is that it doesn't matter what you think because it is the consumer that's paying for what the consumer wants. We need to be very careful in agriculture not to lose site of the fact that it's the consumer that's paying our bills and gets to decide for themselves what they want.

A Grain Merchandiser is someone who is responsible for buying and selling grain. Typically a Grain Merchandiser is purchasing physical bushels of grain from a farmer or country elevator (meaning a grain elevator that collects farmer grain during harvest) and sells grain to exporters, processors, end users, or other Grain Merchandisers. The merchant is also often responsible for arranging and paying for the shipment logistics which may include truck, rail, barge, or vessel transportation. With nearly 20 billion bushels of grain grown in the United States per year, this is a very important job at the intersection of farming, agribusiness, finance, and marketing. Grain Merchandisers might work simply as third party middle men looking for opportunities to make money in the markets (also referred to as "Grain Traders"), or they could work for ethanol plants or grain elevators just buying grain from farmers (called "originating"). They could also work for large livestock or poultry feeders, millers and processors, or exporters involved in the buying and selling of grain. A Grain Merchandiser is NOT a Broker. In the grain and feed business, the job title of "Broker" refers only to those who bring buyers and sellers together and make money from the transaction (brokerage fee). Instead a Grain Merchandiser actually assumes ownership of the grain and either stores those bushels or sells them on down the supply chain.