Without a strong agriculture industry, our nation — and the world — would feel it. The whole industry has faced significant challenges in the last year and a half, but Nebraska continues to remain strong in production, with plenty of job openings at all levels.
Agriculture: The Opportunity
Jay Rempe, Nebraska Farm Bureau’s senior economist noted that there is significant opportunity within agriculture right now.
“Agriculture continues to work to fulfill market demands from both consumers here in the U.S. and in international markets,” Rempe said. “Many of those demands center around transparency and sustainability issues, similar to what we are seeing across all business sectors. As the population continues to grow and incomes increase, there are more demands for greater production from agriculture.”
Greg Ibach, undersecretary in residence for University of Nebraska- Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources noted that the demand for qualified workers is significant, which creates opportunities for people looking for jobs.
“Agriculture has job openings at all levels,” he said. “Farmers continue to face challenges in hiring for full and part-time positions in production agriculture. This is especially true during harvest time when more positions exist for extra workers for those harvest-related jobs. But workers are also needed in almost every sector related to production agriculture.”
Many of today’s farmers are tech-savvy, which bodes well for people looking to put their training in the technology field to use.
“What’s important to remember is that today’s farmers use a wide range of tools including GPS, water sensors and even drones to collect, measure and analyze data to help them to better understand their land and what each individual crop needs for optimal yield,” Rempe said. “They vary and adapt their seeding and application rates to ensure that they are applying the right amount of seed, water, fertilizer, and crop protection products to each area of their fields.
“This is sustainability at its finest. So, within these trends, tremendous opportunities lie for professionals to help agriculture address these complex needs and problems. At its roots, agriculture is a biological process, which is dynamic and ever-changing. Thus, the need for specialists and professionals will likely continue to grow.”
As with many areas of the economy around the nation right now, agriculture is facing an acute shortage of workers. There are job openings at all levels in the industry — especially during harvest season when more hands are needed. Workers are also needed in the production side of things. Mechanics, welders, plumbers and more are also in great demand. One of the most significant areas of impact in the last year and a half, however, has been in meat processing.
“Our meat processing plants especially are facing shortages of workers,” Ibach said. “Demand is high for meat and meat products, and while there are ample supplies of livestock on Nebraska farms, ranches and feedlots, the number of animals that can be harvested is limited by challenges in hiring meat processing employees. As a result, demand for meat is driving prices higher, while the backup of eligible animals to fill that need is driving prices farmers receive lower.”
Rempe noted there has been a profound impact on meat processing workers.
“Last year’s struggles to keep processing facilities open while protecting worker safety were highly publicized,” he said. “One response by policymakers and industry participants has been to seek to increase processing capacity through additional investment in small to medium- sized facilities. The idea being capacity expansion will improve resiliency during unusual events like COVID-19 or other supply shocks.”
Looking ahead, the agriculture industry is aiming to add people of all kinds to put their hands to work. In fact, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture estimates that by 2025, employment opportunities will remain strong, with almost 60,000 openings each year in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment.
Julie Obermeyer, career development and corporate relations director for UNL, said that the college is working to help connect graduates with jobs and said that employers and recruiters are actively looking to hire candidates of all kinds.
“We had over 70 employers attending our Ag and Natural Resources Career Fair Day, including national organizations as well as local Nebraska-based organizations,” she said. “At UNL, we have started hosting virtual career fairs, too. This fall, we are hosting a two-day virtual career fair, along with four days of in-person career fairs.
With the industry bright and ripe for growth, it will just take the right people to step in to fill the gaps.
“Agriculture in Nebraska remains strong and vibrant, and across the state, one in four jobs is related to agriculture,” Ibach said. “There are jobs in all categories of work and all categories of required training, including many not traditionally associated with agriculture.”