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Agriculture and shortages
Dr. Victor Martin

After several weeks of adequate soil moisture for almost all of the state, as of July 20 much of the central part of Kansas is rated as abnormally dry. This still includes all of Barton County except for the southwest corner of the county. Pawnee County is still okay but most of Stafford County is also abnormally dry. The recent rains didn’t alleviate the growing problem. Remember though that individual areas may have received more (or less) precipitation. The six to ten-day outlook (July 27 to 31) indicates well above normal temperatures and precipitation for our area with our area in the well-below normal precipitation bullseye. Not good news for developing corn kernels, flowering soybeans, and sorghum starting to head out. The eight to 14-day outlook (July 29 to Aug. 4) indicates more of the same with our area in the hot, dry bullseye. Today, there’s a growing problem in agriculture, one that is steadily becoming more and more significant. However, it’s also an opportunity for many individuals. We’re speaking about the labor shortage.

All of us are aware of the labor shortage in this country which was actually starting prior to the pandemic. The last 18 months certainly exacerbated the problem. Some attribute it to unemployment benefits, however, the unemployment rate as of May was 3.5% for Kansas. In Barton County the rate was 3.1%. The shortage is acute across all sectors of the economy but agriculture has had a labor shortage that has been growing for about a decade. This is across all sectors in agriculture from farm and feed yard labor to handling and processing facilities. It ranges from jobs requiring a high school diploma to those requiring a bachelors or graduate degree. In our area the shortage is primarily in positions ranging from a high school diploma to a certificate or two-year degree with a few needing a B.S. These are jobs that typically pay well, come with overtime, have health insurance, retirement plans, and often performance bonuses. Jobs that can be careers. So what type of positions are we talking about?

• Crop Protection Applicators – These are the individuals applying pesticides and fertilizers. Typically, you need a CDL and an applicators license.

• Cattle Industry – from cow-calf to stockers and feeder cattle competent help is needed in the number one economic commodity in Kansas. This starts at family farms and goes through feed yard operations.

• Agriculture Business – The need starts with most basic agribusinesses in the office up through marketing and banks. Agriculture needs competent business people.

• Agronomist – These are the consultants making recommendations in crop production and typically have at least a B.S. although some simply a two-year degree.  

• Commercial Drivers – there is an acute shortage of truck drivers across all aspects of the economy. Agriculture is especially impacted as almost all commodity movement, both inputs and outputs move by truck. And unless there is another reprieve, the requirements to obtain a CDL are becoming much more stringent is a few months.

• Scale Technicians – In agriculture scales are everywhere. Ag is a weight driven industry and scales are everywhere. Most ag companies don’t have their own technicians but the industry servicing everything from truck scales to checkouts is chronically short of trained technicians. The great thing about most of these careers is that through schools like Barton Community and other two-year schools in Kansas, an individual can obtain the necessary training and skills in as little as one or two semesters or at most two-years. 

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