The Drought Monitor indicates were are still abnormally dry but at least it hasn’t intensified. Other than that things remain essentially unchanged. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear there’s much hope for significant precipitation for our area. January is already half over and it won’t be long as daylight and temperatures increase that wheat want to start heading into spring growth and heading. Soil moisture will be needed soon, especially north and west of our area. The six to ten-day outlook (Jan. 20 to 24) indicates normal temperatures and a chance of above normal precipitation. The eight to 14 day outlook (Jan. 22 to 28) indicates a normal to below normal temperatures and again slight above normal precipitation. Today, let’s briefly discuss a challenge agriculture has been facing for years. One that is only going to become worse – a shortage of a qualified workforce.
• Currently over 240,000 individuals are employed directly and indirectly in agriculture. From the field to the store and everywhere in between, the agriculture sector is not only the largest employer but has an economic impact of over $65 billion dollars in the state.
• We all know that unemployment in Kansas increased dramatically as a result of the pandemic and as of last month was 5.6%. Much lower than the national average but much higher than the rate of a little more than 3% in February 2020. However, keep in mind that unemployment figure only include nonfarm jobs.
• We know people in various industries from aviation to hospitality in the state have shed employees and people are either unemployed or underemployed. For some, their jobs may never return. But there is opportunity and it often doesn’t require a four-year or graduate degree but often a two-year degree or even only a certificate. That opportunity exists in the agriculture sector. Let’s focus on opportunities not requiring a four-year degree, though these are in demand also, but on those with shorter turnaround times. Career opportunities that pay a good wage, include overtime, sick leave, healthcare, and often retirement plans.
• The following are careers available through Barton Community College as certificate programs and are areas of high demand either directly or indirectly are part of agriculture.
In one semester, an individual can obtain a certificate in Welding or as a Scale Technician. Both of these areas need qualified, trained individuals with current worker shortages. Two semester certificates are available in Beef Cattle Production and Crop Protection. Beef cattle includes everything from cow-calf operations to feed yards. Crop protection careers focus on chemical application including fertilizers and pesticides and there are severe shortages in each.
• Two-year degrees with excellent career opportunities, with the possibility for advancement at Barton include Agricultural Business management and Crop Protection. Again there is strong demand for these careers.
• Finally, some individuals qualify for assistance with tuition depending on their circumstances, for example as a displaced worker. There are also scholarships available. And if you are reading this and not near Barton County, many two-year schools have similar programs.
The best aspect here is that people will always have to eat and careers in ag are always there.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or MartinV@bartonccc.edu.