Since there is less than two percent of the United States population living on farms, I am sure there are many people whose image of a farmer is something along the same line I had. Growing up, I always had this image of a farmer as a man in bib overalls, wearing a plaid shirt, holding a handkerchief in his back pocket and chewing a piece straw in his mouth. Maybe that was from all of the pictures in the children’s books, or maybe from my Fisher-Price farm that I played with as a child. Many people still have this image of farmers today.
Sometimes an image can be distorted. Today’s farmer is so much more that what I had previously described. Up until the last couple of years, I never really had an understanding of production agriculture careers. There is a lot more than driving a tractor through a field to plow the soil, plant a few seeds, and then use a combine to harvest in the fall. Unlike the Little People farm, there are a lot more livestock on a farm than one horse, one cow, two sheep, a goat, and a chicken. With those livestock, there is a lot more involved than giving some grain, hay, and water. In reality, today’s farmer wears both blue and white collars. The blue-collar work is the physical labor involved in production agriculture. That work involves all of the maintenance, adjustment and repair of farming equipment, the operation of the farming machinery, and the physical care and handling of livestock. The side of production agriculture that is often overlooked is the white-collar side. The white-collar work is all of the marketing of agricultural products, understanding all of the financing needed for a farming operation, business planning, developing enterprise budgets, understanding the economics of agriculture, understanding the legal aspects of farming , and applying the science involved in production agriculture.
I recently returned to school to study agriculture business at Joliet Junior College. I was encouraged to see a thriving population of Aggies there furthering their education in the agriculture discipline at a collegiate level. Moving forward in our current agricultural society, there is a need to pursue an education beyond a high school diploma. With new technologies emerging, more complex machinery, increased regulations on farming practices and emphases on productivity as well as conservation all contribute to the need for a post-secondary education.
A two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in agriculture prepares a person to successfully work in the agriculture industry. Coursework in agricultural economics, crop production, animal science, soil science, animal nutrition, farm management, agricultural mechanization and more, provide our future farmers plenty of tools to make a great contribution to food, fuel and fiber production in this nation. A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in an agriculture discipline further equips a person to help lead our industry. With specializations in animal science, crop science, agronomy, agricultural economics, agribusiness and more, the white-collar part of our job can be done easier and more successfully.
Nearly 30 percent of today’s farmers and ranchers have attended college, with over half of this group obtaining a degree. A growing number of today’s farmers and ranchers with four-year college degrees are pursuing post-graduate studies. Quoting a contributor to the Agriculture Everyday Facebook page, “Farmers today need knowledge (or how to access it) of marketing, accounting, technology, weather, sales, animal care, soils. It isn’t just enough to say ‘I’m a farmer’….”