I don’t know about you, but at times it seems like we only hear bad news in the media. Recently though, The Stock Journal, ran a very positive headline: “Growing Appeal”. Elizabeth Anderson followed this with a great story, which focused on the opportunities for young people in agriculture. This got me thinking about my experiences of how this has changed.
When I left school in the early eighties, the ideas about working in agriculture were very different. The view was that farming was not valued. There were also many questions about its future and the hurdles facing the industry. The 17 years I spent on the farm were terrific, but still, that underlying view stayed in the back of my mind. In my professional life after farming, I have noticed a marked shift in the conversations about the sector. This has happened during the past decade or so. I have also seen a dynamic shift in the perception (and reality) around the opportunities in agriculture, and the new career paths. This has occurred both on the farms, and in the service industries related to agriculture.
I believe technology has played a large part in this shift. Who wouldn’t want to work in an industry where GPS, auto steer, livestock, and crop management tools are cutting edge?
Nature of Current Agri-Businesses
Farms are generally much larger now, and in my view, they are run much more professionally. Though, given the margins in agriculture, they have to be. This may sound like a small thing, but I think it’s quite telling. Most farm businesses today have uniforms and logos, and other similar branding. Significantly, this shows a level of pride in what they are doing. Further, most agri-businesses of this scale are multimillion-dollar businesses. This is through revenue, and certainly in assets (and probably in debt as well!)
The acceptance of outside advice is much more common. Crucially, it is these associated industries that have the employment opportunities, which enable non-farming young people to have fulfilling careers in agriculture. As agri-businesses have become larger and more complex, the external sources of advice have also increased.
Obviously, tax and accounting have always been part of the landscape. However, the smart agri-businesses are using their accountant for more complex advice.
Further, agronomy advice is much more widespread now, and in lots of cases, the agronomist is the most important external advisor. Certainly, farmers use them the most.
Also, more agribusinesses are tendering out finance. Big savings can be made in this area (upwards of $50K per year in some cases), just by asking the question and making a professional business case.
Additionally, legal advice is becoming more accessible and sought after. Potential legal issues are everywhere in a large agri-business, and it is important to understand the ramifications if something goes wrong. This advice may entail general legal advice, estate planning, contracts, and possibly dispute resolution.
Finally, there has been significant uptake of advisory boards in the last five years or so. This is because of the accountability and external expertise that advisory boards provide.
Agriculture always has been, and always will be, challenging. Weather and commodity prices are usually unknown. But the good operators control all the variables they can and are rewarded as a result.
Therefore, great opportunities lie ahead for young people in this ever-evolving sector.