Careers in agriculture gaining popularity

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

With every generation, kids are getting more and more removed from the farm.

Not everybody’s grandpa or uncle lives on a farm anymore.

So kids are flocking to the classroom.

When Bob Johnson started his career as an ag teacher in Milton 28 years ago, there were about 45 kids enrolled in his classes. Four of them were girls, and 85 percent of them lived on farms.

Today, there are 235 kids in the district’s FFA program. Most of them live in town, and it’s an equal mix of girls and boys, Johnson said.

The greenhouse the district added in a 1991 expansion was and is a big draw, Johnson said.

Lessons in marketing, public speaking, small animal production and wildlife also are big draws, he said, as are the lessons on careers in agriculture.

“The units that are taught in careers in ag continue to be a big influence,” Johnson said. “It impresses kids to see the number of people that are actually employed in an ag-related field.”

Plenty of city kids are flocking to post-secondary education, too, said Rick Daluge, retired assistant dean of the UW-Madison Agriculture and Life Sciences Department.

The department’s Farm and Industry Short Course program was started in 1885 so farm kids could get some classroom time in during the winter months.

Today it’s one of the longest running ag programs in the nation, and only 60 percent of the students come from the farm, Daluge said.

Short course students can choose from dozens of programs in animal production, horticulture, grain market hedging, horticulture or food processing.

The student body ranges in age from 18 to 65, and students come from all sorts of backgrounds, Daluge said.

“We usually have a few older students who have changed careers,” Daluge said. “Or somebody inherits a farm and wants to figure out what to do with it.”

The intense, purely agricultural aspect of the program is right up many students’ alleys, he said.

“They’re taking (classes) they like,” Daluge said. “Students who were horrible in high school do very well here.”

Agriculture education is important enough in Janesville that the district is renovating classroom space and building a new science lab to go with it, said Craig High School ag teacher Diane Runde.

The district offers 12 classes to its 200 ag students, she said.

She still has to battle the “ag equals farming” attitude.

But every day she talks to her students about the variety of ag careers on and off the farm. And the proof is in the pudding as many of her former students return to Rock County with good jobs in the agribusiness industry.

“The best thing they do is see other students succeed,” Runde said.

Agriculture field offers bounty of career opportunities

You might be surprised at the variety of off-the-farm jobs available for those with an education in agriculture. Here are a few from Rick Daluge, retired assistant dean of the UW-Madison School of Agriculture and Life Sciences:

Animal genetics is an ever-growing industry with a need for sales people and artificial insemination or embryo transfer technicians.

“A lot of people don’t realize that artificial insemination requires a person,” Daluge said.

Technicians’ salaries start at $30,000, Daluge said.

Farm service and supply companies have positions in sales, marketing and fieldwork. Other companies or independent consultants create animal nutrition plans, develop business plans, write nutrient management and soil conservation plans for farm fields or scout crops.

“A farmer today can not be an expert on everything,” Daluge said.

Farm machinery dealerships provide another service, and they offer more than sales positions. Today’s farm equipment is so computerized it requires a special education to maintain it, Daluge said.

“There’s a perception from the high school kid that anybody can be a mechanic,” he said. “With the amount of math, science and computer knowledge, not everybody can be.”

Custom fieldwork is a busy industry in today’s market, Daluge said.

Not everyone can afford today’s high-tech farm equipment. For some producers, it’s cheaper to hire someone else to plant and harvest crops.

The human food industry is always looking for new products. Jobs start at $60,000 for someone with a bachelor’s degree and the ideas to develop new foods and new ways of packaging and serving nutritious, convenient foods.

Major farm industry companies have credit departments. For example, Daluge’s daughter works in the credit department at Case-New Holland where she writes newsletters, designs Web pages and works in public relations.

“She was a city kid who majored in ag journalism,” Daluge said. “You don’t need a farm background to work in the industry.”

Landscape architecture is so popular that UW-Madison has enrollment limitations, Daluge said. Along with landscaping firms, many graduates find work as park directors or city planners.

n The herd manager on a farm with a couple thousand cows would start between $40,000 and $50,000, Daluge said.

Last updated: 5:47 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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