Farming in today’s economy

Joy Wessels

Students come to college in search of a degree that will land them the perfect job. But due to hard economic times, students must also be prepared to have a “back-up plan” for a job market that is continually shrinking. This scenario is no different for students in the agricultural field.

The farming industry is becoming more and more difficult to break into, especially for those who do not already have family working in it. With record-high land prices and a high cost of overall production, fewer graduates are going directly into farming. Andy Edson, senior in agricultural business, is going back to his family farm after he graduates but realizes how difficult it is for students to get into farming.

“A lot of money goes into starting up your own farm,” Edson said. “Most students initially go work in the industry for a few years to build capital.”

Industry jobs for agricultural business majors like sales for co-ops or ethanol plants are just a few options for students with an agriculture degree. Based on surveys of graduating seniors in agricultural business, 24 percent go into sales. 22 percent go into agribusiness management and only 16 percent farm.

Another reason fewer students go directly into farming is because of the development of new technology. Mike Duffy, professor of economics, said over the years agriculture has created technologies that substitute capital for labor.

“Because of this, one person farms more land than before, and we need fewer farmers,” Duffy said. “But, even though we might not need as many farmers, there are more opportunities opening up in supporting agricultural-related business.”

Farming is more complex than some may think. It requires several different skills, which can sometimes be handled all by the farmer, but other times expertise has to be hired. That is why Ron Deiter, professor of economics, recommends those interested in farming acquire different business skills.

“Farming today is big business,” Deiter said. “We believe that knowing a lot about economics, finance, marketing and entrepreneurship is going to be critical in operating and managing a successful farm business in the years ahead.”

But, because it can be hard to start up a farming business completely from scratch, the Iowa legislature created a program in 1994 called Beginning Farmer Center. The program aims to pair young, prospective farmers with established farmers who want to transition their business to the next generation. Duffy is the director of Beginning Farmer Center at Iowa State.

“There are many different ways for people to start farming,” Duffy said. “There isn’t an exact prescription, but it’s important to know your goals and what resources you have.”