6 Ag Jobs That Prove “Alternative” Agriculture is Actually Big Business

This week Whole Foods Market released their “Top 10 Food Trends for 2016”. This reminded me to write this blog post, which I had considered writing a few weeks ago.

Everyone has their own opinion about “alternative” (meaning: not “conventional”) agriculture. I don’t personally care for these labels, but I couldn’t think of another way to group them all together. What I am referring to are agricultural markets such as organic, natural, locally-grown, non-GMO, humanely-raised, etc.

Some might call this group “sustainable agriculture” but I think that title is dead wrong. 

All agriculture forms care about sustainability.

However, there is no denying that many of these niche or “alternative” markets are growing by leaps and bounds. The agriculture industry has always rose to meet consumer demands and preferences such as these should be no different.

“But”, you say, “people don’t understand how much more efficient conventional agriculture is than these forms”. Actually, yes they do. In fact, they knowingly pay a MUCH higher price for these items because that’s what they want and they can afford to do so. 

I just released a fantastic podcast interview with Damian Mason where we talk a lot about this topic. 

So, those of us in the agriculture industry, can continue to grumble about, and poke fun at, these trends, but we can’t deny the fact that there is money to be made in these forms of agriculture. 

Although they are still considered “niche” or “alternative” business models, they are becoming big business. Here are 5 growing career fields that emphasize this point:

  1. Organic/Humane Certifier. The USDA cannot keep up with the demand of certifying and re-certifying USDA organic farms. They have enlisted the help of several certifying bodies throughout the country to inspect and certify organic farms. Along with these responsbilities there are other designations that are not necessarily regulated by the USDA but do require a knowledgable inspector to certify. Click here for more information on becoming a USDA Certifier. 
  2. Biologicals Marketer.  Biologicals include microbials, plant extracts, beneficial insects and other organic material that is used by farmers to increase crop health and protect against pests weeds and diseases. They are generally accepted as more environmentally friendly than synthetic chemicals. Due to consumer demand for these products, the global market for biologicals has grown to over $2.6 billion annually. Marketing and selling these products requires not only interpersonal skills, but also the technical knowledge of the underlying biology. 
  3. Farmers Market Coordinator. In the decade between 2004 and 2014 the number of farmers markets in the U.S. MORE THAN QUADRUPLED from about 1,755 to 8,284. This enormous growth has required a great deal of management, logistics, marketing and planning. A Farmers Market Coordinator is responsible for vendor relations, event marketing, logistics, customer support, and planning. 
  4. Customer Success Specialist. This term has traditionally been used in the software business and has recently taken root in the agricultural industry due to the rise of AgTech. Customer Success Specialists essentially serve as “tech support” for farmers, helping them learn to use and troubleshoot technology. What does this have to do with “alternative” agriculture? Well, many new technologies are helping to make farmers more sustainable and better stewards of the land. Also, while AgTech is a booming business, we are still in the early days of its prominence. 
  5. Sustainable Procurement Specialist. One common theme of these niche markets is that they serve to “value add” and “De-commoditize” agricultural goods. When you “de-commoditize” something it radically changes the way you source your supply. Commodities are all about standardization, trading, contracts, arbitrage, etc. However, these new “value-added” goods require knowledge of farming methods, relationships, regular communication, and verification. This creates a need for a more hands-on approach to sourcing and procurement, meaning more job opportunities as these markets grow. 
  6. Organic Farm Manager. Probably the most obvious of the list, but still very important. If you’ve read this blog for long you know that we have a shortage of talent in agriculture in nearly all areas. Growing areas like organic food have an increasing amount of roles which compounds the talent shortage problem. Organic Farm Managers are needed from the small “locally grown” farms all the way up to the massive growers in the organic space. Specialized knowledge of organic farming practices as well as sound management practices are a combination that will surely land you a job in this field.

Agriculture has always risen to meet consumer demand and preferences, and today should be no different. To use Damian Mason’s words “We are in a consumer-driven business”.

Above are six ways that you can add value and meet consumer demand in our industry. 

Are you in one of these six careers? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a message in the comments about your experiences.


Tim Hammerich

Tim is a strategic communications consultant, founder of AgGrad, and the host of the "Future of Agriculture" podcast. Originally from California, he is now based out of Boise, Idaho.