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Ag sector faces worker shortage
Dr. Victor Martin

As of April 19, the Drought Monitor map is showing worsening drought for the western half of the state. The bullseye of extreme drought in eastern Barton County is expanding in Barton, Stafford and north-eastward. The six to ten-day outlook (April 26 to 30) indicates a 40 to 50% chance of above normal temperatures and 33 to 40% chance of below normal precipitation. The eight to 14-day outlook (April 28 to May 4) indicates a 33 to 40% chance of above temperatures and near normal precipitation. Even with normal precipitation, the drought conditions aren’t going anywhere. Today, we know about the inflation for many of the things we buy, supply chain issues, and so on. You have likely heard of many employers having difficulty finding jobs, especially in service industries. Today, let’s briefly discuss the significant challenges for employers in agricultural industries and the employment opportunity it presents to the public.

All sectors of production agriculture from the farm and ranch, the feedlots, elevators, and crop production services to meat and food processors are heading toward being critically short of qualified employees. There are several reasons.

1. An aging workforce, especially on the production side, including co-ops, framers, ranchers, and the feedlot industry.

2. Traditionally, many new workers across all sectors came from agricultural backgrounds. With fewer people across the industry and smaller families with fewer children, there simply aren’t enough potential employees from that pool and not all want to pursue a career in agriculture.

3. Agriculture by nature is in primarily rural areas and the available population is shrinking. Even nonfarm young people tend to move towards more urban areas with what they see as greater opportunities and amenities. And we have a critical shortage of decent housing in many rural areas along with challenges with health-care access.

4. Immigration policies – throughout the history of this country, immigrants have been a major source of labor across all sectors of production agriculture. Without discussing the politics involved today, we lack the necessary influx of immigrant labor for jobs. Jobs that are the core of the production industry. This is due to several factors. And the decrease in the number of immigrants allowed in has hurt the economy across all sectors.

5. For individuals wanting to enter the industry without a family operation already in place, the costs of entering the field are high. Land and equipment costs have increased dramatically along with the price of inputs.

6. Schools, parents, etc. often don’t consider these as careers for students in many cases. One reason is a lack of understanding of the industry and the career potential with certificate and/or degrees in the field. Another is that many think if they don’t have an agricultural background, they either won’t be considered or aren’t capable.

7. Finally, a lack of recognition by some economic develop groups and others of the opportunities presented across all sectors of the industry for their communities.

Next week: What can be done to correct this challenge.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or