Preparing for the future ag workforce

Collette Schultz

Preparing yourself for future agricultural jobs

Even as robots pick strawberries and drones spray pesticides, the demand for agricultural employees continues to grow. Experts predict that in the near future, two jobs will be open for every agricultural job seeker, including field and skilled labor.

By equipping yourself with the in-demand skills in agriculture, you open more job prospects today and in the future. Learn what skills are going to be valued and how you can get them.

Agricultural systems technology

The future of farming is technology – but technology doesn’t always run itself. Farms need skilled experts to install, run, and fix systems on operations of all sizes. From setting up basic business IT to trouble-shooting complex equipment, people with skills in agricultural technology are highly in demand.

There are many sub-specialties to agriculture technology, including jobs like drone specialists and precision agriculture technologists. Smaller operations especially value flexible employees who can tackle a variety of technology projects, as they can’t afford to have several specialists on staff. Larger operations may hire an employee to work on just one type of machine.

So how do you learn these skills? For those looking for formal education, many universities offer agricultural systems technology degrees, which offer a comprehensive overview of many kinds of technologies you might encounter. For more flexible education, check out online or local certificate-granting programs. These courses offer more specific education in a condensed format. If you’re currently working, your employer may offer cost-sharing options for advanced education. Specialized equipment manufacturers are also increasingly offering training for their products, including hands-on courses and online webinars. And don’t forget about agricultural conferences.

Entrepreneurship and business management

Despite the trend of farm consolidation, farms still carry a lot of risk when they grow limited products. Diversification of product and income mix is one of the best ways farms can reduce their risk, especially for smaller, family-run operations. Farms in the future need skilled business staff to help them evaluate new opportunities and test them. Whether it’s experimenting with a new value-added product or running events on a property, knowing how to write and follow through on business plans will be a desirable skill.

Employees seeking business management skills have many education options. Formal education includes four year degrees, online courses and certificates, and programs through extension offices and community colleges. You can take generic business courses, or specialized agriculture business management classes. One of the best ways to learn these skills is direct experience. See if there is an opportunity in your current workplace to deliver business value by trialing a small business plan for a new product line, and volunteer to oversee the project.

Data analysis

The increase of data in farming means an increase in demand for employees who can interpret and react to that information. As with agriculture technology, jobs in agriculture data analysis can range from very specific jobs in bioinformatics, where you might review biological data to fight pests, to broader positions like being one operation’s go-to data manager, where you would handle all kinds of information, including financial, commercial, and production data.

In all kinds of data analysis jobs, you need to tie strong computer and math skills to production expertise to deliver the most value to your employer. These skills are harder to self-teach, especially for very specific programs or processes, so some kind of formal education is one of the best options. As the demand for these employees grow, so do the education choices, including programs at universities, community colleges, and online institutions. Check to see if your employer would cover cost-sharing for these programs.

Future needs build on past agricultural values

Despite all the changes to farming, time-honored values are still key. A willingness to work hard, support your team, and keep up a good attitude are some of the most important skills you can offer to potential employers. When you add new skills to these values, you become a top-notch employee and open new doors for yourself in the future of farming.