I am not referring to the Justin Timberlake song but to agriculture. On our recent seminar to the Northern Neck one of the main themes that we experienced is the shortage of employees in the agriculture sector. This does not just apply to certain segments but is industry-wide, across all localities, regions, states and the nation. So, I can’t help but ask why is this?
Tom Taliaferro from Montague Farms gave us an interesting perspective that resonated with me. Tom was born and raised on his family’s farm but did not major in agriculture in college. After he graduated his family encouraged him to go and work outside of the agricultural industry. Tom worked for several years before returning to the farm, which, in my opinion, gave him a whole new perspective to bring back. While not every family operation has this ability, I think in the long run it is beneficial to the operation’s success. While touring Montague Farms and discussing issues and concerns with Tom he was asked why do you think labor is such a challenge in agriculture. His response: “Ag isn’t sexy.” He went on to explain his viewpoint that as a young person, agriculture is something that is in your blood. It is hard to see your friends working an 8-5 job and potentially making more money instead of working long hours during harvest in the heat and cold. Even those of us in the industry have had the same thoughts when we were in our twenties.
Tom is right, though. Those of us in the industry have prided ourselves for centuries on being hard workers, working long hours in less than desirable conditions, and not making a lot of money. But has our pride caused a skewed image of the industry? I think we have unintentionally given ourselves a bad rap without meaning to. We need to make agriculture “sexy” again. The question is, how do we do this?
I don’t even pretend to have the answer to this question and I believe we as an industry need to all think about this. While we all experience the struggles and challenges associated with agriculture I believe we need to start promoting the positives and figuring out how to market ourselves and our industry to the generations that are coming up and currently in the workforce. We all have different values, goals, and beliefs which brings different perspectives, and that is a great thing in my opinion, but are we projecting the overall values that employees are looking for? We need to promote the wonderful aspects of agriculture that only a few know such as the independence, being able to not be tied to a desk, the beauty of nature, the amazing people, and the fact that we as an industry feed and clothe the world! Agriculture is very much rooted in tradition but we need to figure out what the values and ideals are of the younger generations and how we can comprise to keep agriculture moving forward and sexy. Depending on the job there are numerous other positive aspects that can be listed and that might just be the starting point. Looking at the positives, talking to people and seeing what they are looking for from their employer, and finding those perks that can’t necessarily be measured. That is how we start making agriculture sexy again in my opinion. So, my question to anyone who reads my ramblings is simple: how do you think we can make agriculture sexy again?