A friend of mine brought her son – who was about 11 years old at the time – to visit the Monmouth Learning Center a few years ago. Her son was fascinated. He thought agriculture was just so cool, and he told his mom that he had decided to become a farmer. I won’t rule out the possibility that my friend’s son will be fortunate enough to find a place on a farm, but for many of us who haven’t been born into a farming family, owning or running a farm later in life isn’t very likely. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be involved in agriculture.
I happen to agree with my friend’s son – ag is just so cool. Since I was a young kid, I’ve always been interested in how plant science works and how it relates to ag. In grade school and high school, I wanted to understand everything there was to know about photosynthesis and inputs for plant health, so it wasn’t surprising that I later found myself in college taking agriculture classes. After getting my B.S. in Ag Education, I taught agronomy to high school students for a number of years. Then, a few years ago, I followed an opportunity to work for the Learning Center for Monsanto. I never became a farmer myself, per se – I may not spend the Spring in a planter or the Fall in a combine – but I do get to work with farmers all the time, and I get to spend a lot of my days teaching others about agriculture: the science behind it, best management practices, innovations in the field, and more.
You might wonder: What other options are out there to work in an agriculture-related field? You may be surprised at how vast the list of careers in ag is. AgCareers.com is a great resource to view all sorts of options of careers in agriculture. One of the coolest features on this site is that you can see a high-level description of what the job entails and what education you need to get there.
Jobs in agriculture don’t always involve wearing work boots and driving tractors. When you think about it, there are billions of people in the world who rely on the outputs of agriculture to live well (food to eat, clothes to wear, fuel for vehicles, etc.), so it’s necessary to have an extraordinarily sophisticated system of people in place to make the most of every facet of agriculture.
For instance, a field that is quickly growing is data science in agriculture. As we’ve talked about before with regard to pesticide (specifically, fungicide) and nitrogen use, growers don’t want to use any more inputs on their crops than is necessary – unnecessary treatment (or over-treatment) can be damaging to plants and is expensive; conversely, not giving enough of what the plants need can be detrimental to yield. To help growers be more precise in how they treat their crops, teams of data scientists have put together software that collects data on the land where a farmer is growing. The information collected helps farmers see that some parts of their land require more or less of a resource than others and allows them to make decisions that often require fewer inputs (water, chemicals, etc.). This infographic does a great job explaining data science in ag. Teams of people work behind the scenes to pull together, analyze, and deliver relevant information to farmers. Some of the folks working on systems like this don’t even have a background in agriculture – they might instead have a background in programming, software development, etc. – but they’re still very much connected to farmers!
Data science is one path to take, but there are many others. For those of you who enjoy your science classes, agriculture might be a great fit for you – there is a LOT of science in ag. Biology and chemistry are the foundations of plant science, and having a background in either of those fields can get you started in working towards a career in plant breeding, research, field science, and more. Entomology, the study of insects, is another science-based field that is vital to ag.
There are also many supporting roles in agriculture that don’t require getting your boots dirty or having a science background. Working in Communications, Human Resources, Public Relations, and Customer Service are just some options that make the world go ’round in the ag industry.
America’s Farmers has some “Food for Thought” in regards to working in ag.
I love what I do, I love the people I get to meet and work with, and I love having the opportunity to teach others about agriculture, a field that touches all of us in some way.
Troy is formerly a high school Agriculture teacher and FFA advisor who is passionate about teaching Agronomics, Ag Science, and Plant Biology. Now the manager of the Monmouth Learning Center, Troy has led the Fantasy Farming Challenge for the past three years, helping hundreds of high school students to understand the choices farmers make against the challenges of weather, disease, weed management, and insect pressure.