CP editorial: Not all roads lead home; why it’s okay to not return to the farm

I never imagined living anywhere else besides the farm when I grew up. Production agriculture is in my blood – for generations and generations, my ancestors have been farmers. Feeding livestock and baling hay were some of my favorite memories as a child. I wanted nothing more than to have a family, a little farmhouse and big pastures full of cattle when I became an adult. Being a farmer’s wife was my dream job.

That dream changed when I came to the University of Missouri. I began to see that there were so many opportunities in the agriculture industry outside of the family farm. Jobs in agricultural communications instantly appealed to me, and my interests evolved even further to public relations and marketing within the agriculture industry. Working with groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation or Dow Agrisciences became my new dream, rather than going back to life on the farm.

Not to mention that the cushy town-folk life had started to grow on me. I liked being within 20 minutes of a grocery store and having more dining options than the Square Meal Café back home. It was a relief to not have to constantly worry about your income being washed away in a flood or deemed worthless by a drop in the markets. Not having to be out late feeding animals or racing against a storm to load square bales also seemed very appealing to me.

At first, it completely broke my heart. I had been a leader in FFA and strong advocate for production agriculture. Would people see me as a hypocrite, not following my own advice? What kind of self-claimed agrculturalist would I be by taking a dreaded “town job”?

The thought that I was letting the industry down bothered me the most. I couldn’t understand how the agriculture industry could possibly survive without me and my cattle. Soon, however, I came to a startling realization – it’s not about me. I was so worried about my role in the big picture, that I lost sight of the fact that the agriculture industry needs passionate people in a variety of areas. I didn’t have to return back to farm in order to make a difference; I could make an impact just as easily in a position with an agricultural business or commodity group.

Opportunities are endless in the field of agriculture. The Agriculture Council of America states that there are nearly 22 million Americans, almost 15 percent of the workforce, employed in farm or farm-related jobs, which includes production agriculture and my interest areas of marketing and public relations. Agricultural employers are needing even more employees to help keep the industry going. An article from USA Today notes that between 2010 and 2015, nearly 54,400 jobs are being created annually; only 29,300 students are expected to earn degrees in agriculture and life sciences. The American Farm Bureau Federation, Osborn + Barr, Dow Agrisciences, JBS USA – they’re all looking for motivated, creative individuals to help further promote the agriculture industry and share the stories of America’s producers.

Some may refute my idea that a job off of the farm can still help agriculture. Some might say that I should be worried because the average farmer is getting older. They’re right; the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Services has taken census information and found that in 2012, the average farm operator was 58 years old.

Some might say there aren’t enough people involved in production agriculture to feed the growing population. The average farmer in the United States feeds 154 people in the United States and across the globe. With an estimated 3.2 million farmers in the United States, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Services, doing some quick math would equate that only 4.92 million people are being fed by American farmers. How are we ever going to tackle world hunger, or even hunger in our own country?

Those potential arguments I mentioned are exactly the reasons why I feel my place isn’t in production agriculture, but rather educating others about the strength and power of our industry. I want to let the American public know that there are many young people who want to go back into production agriculture; many of my classmates here at MU plan on returning to the farm, whether as a producer or a producer’s spouse. The public should know that American farmers and ranchers are using new technologies and production practices to increase their yields, and producers are concerned with putting high-quality, safe agricultural products into the world’s marketplace and have the consumer’s best interests at heart.

My decision to pursue a career away from the farm was hard for me at first, but the more I spend time thinking about it, the more confident I am that I can help the agriculture industry thrive by being a voice for the American agriculturalist. With my education from MU, my own story of agriculture to share and a passion to share, I know that I can be just as helpful promoting the industry as I would be back home with my cattle.