There is Still a Shortage of Talent in Agribusiness

Several of the largest agribusiness employers have consolidated. Unfortunately, this often is accompanied by redundancies, position eliminations, and layoffs.

An environment of mergers and acquisitions should (in theory) decrease the demand for agribusiness talent. Add to that low farm incomes and we should (theoretically) be talking about the lack of opportunity in agriculture.

But that’s not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. There still seems to be strong demand and an optimistic outlook for those that choose to pursue a career in agriculture.

If you know someone who is talented and pursuing an impressive career in agribusiness, congratulate them! Oh, and be sure to nominate them for AgGrad 30 Under 30. It will only take you a minute, and it would really make their day!

But why haven’t we seen a shortage of talent in agribusiness when certainly some positions are being eliminated? Some of the reasons will be intuitive to you, but others might surprise you.

Why Demand for Talent in Agribusiness Remains Strong

Agriculture did not appeal to Generation X.

“Generation X” (those born 1965-1979) came of age at a tough time for agriculture: the farm crisis of the 1980s. For that reason, agriculture was not a very appealing field (pardon the pun) for those entering the workforce between the early ’80s until the early ’90s. Many farms went out of business. Others told their children to look for work in other career areas. By the time the industry picked back up, the talent had largely gone elsewhere. Of course there are exceptions to this, but I don’t think anyone could make the argument that there is an abundance of talent today prepared to take over executive roles in this industry.

Less farmers means less “ag backgrounds.”

Most agribusiness employers would like a candidate with an ag background. I understand why. Managing a feedlot would be really tough if you’ve never been around cattle. Working with feed mill equipment would be a challenge without knowing what an auger is. On top of that, living in rural areas can be a real adjustment for someone who grew up in a city. The fact is that as we approach 1% of the population being involved in production agriculture, there are naturally less people of this background. On top of that, a big part of the trend to less of the population farming is due to farm consolidation. This means the big get bigger. As farms get bigger, more of them can afford for the next generation to return to the farm. This means even fewer “farm kids” looking for work in agribusiness.

As positions get eliminated, new positions get created.

There is no silver lining when it’s your job that gets eliminated, or your town that gets hit with layoffs. But overall, the industry is evolving. There may be few ag retail sales jobs in the future, but there will likely be more Customer Success and technician roles, just to use an example. The skillsets will change, but an understanding of agriculture will always be fundamental.

The recent influx of capital into agtech.

Billions of dollars have flowed toward new technology to improve the food system. New startups have been able to build teams, creating new jobs that didn’t exist before.

Millennials and Generation Z don’t want to relocate – and most don’t have to.

Ironically, the generations that spend all of their time online, care deeply about where they live. Usually, many rural areas are not high on the list. The most common response to this is “that will hurt or kill your career in this business.” I agree. However, so far, there has been enough demand for talent that many of them have found their desired work without having to compromise their location. This could change, but, so far the necessity hasn’t been there for the most part.

The rise of the personal brand.

This one is more anecdotal. I have noticed that the most ambitious of young professionals care deeply about building a personal brand. This is definitely due to the rise of social media. What I mean by this is that they want to develop an image of being an expert/”guru”/”ninja”/”authority” on something very specific. This comes at the expense of wanting to pay their dues by working for five years at a feed mill in Western Nebraska, for example. “YOLO” (you only live once) is the mantra.

So, what?

The above is not intended to bash on any of these generations. The fact is that baby boomers are retiring, much of generation x avoided agriculture, and millennials and generation z have totally different priorities. Most ag employers have not adjusted to these changing dynamics.

Of course there are also exceptions to this criteria above. There are shining stars in today’s agribusiness. If you know a shining star that is in their 20s, please make sure you nominate them for AgGrad 30 Under 30. It won’t require much of you and it could be a huge “feather in their cap” for their career.

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.