College News

Ag Instructor Vic Martin: Solving the Ag Worker Shortage

Great Bend Tribune
Published May 1, 2022

This is written prior to the release of the weekly drought monitor report. Hopefully some of the promised rain has arrived as you read this. Even if the area was fortunate enough to receive several inches of rain (not likely) it would moderate but not eliminate the drought. Any rain will help wheat hang on and perhaps help newly planted corn emerge. The six to ten-day outlook (May 3 to 7) indicates a 33 to 40% chance of above normal temperatures and 50 to 60% chance of above-normal precipitation. The eight to fourteen-day outlook (May 5 to 11) indicates a 33 to 40% chance of above-normal temperatures and near-normal precipitation. Even with normal precipitation, the drought conditions aren’t going anywhere. Last week we discussed the labor shortage challenges common to all phases of agriculture and contributing factors. This week’s column suggests some possible solutions to help.

  • Those of us in all aspects of agriculture must develop and implement a strategy to effectively reach out to the nonfarm population, especially in more urban areas. This includes changing the view of many regarding exactly what agriculture is. That ag is high tech and has many high-paying career options. That ag is science and technology-based. That ag is looking for capable, responsible individuals and they don’t need an ag background.
  • To implement the first bullet point, it’s vital to change the perception of career counselors in many high schools. Industry and ag educators must go into the schools, not just high schools, and expose students and staff to the career opportunities in ag. Also, a targeted campaign for older individuals of the opportunities for careers in agriculture and the opportunity to improve their financial situations with a steady reliable career.
  • Some of these careers require on-the-job training. Many need a certificate/technical education or two-year degree. Some will require a B.S., or post-graduate degree. How do we make these affordable? Should we find public monies and/or have industry recruit individuals while paying for the education with a contract requiring them to work for the firm for a period of time. 
  • The ag community must, and it has been trying, to have both sides of the aisle in Washington to develop an effective immigration policy to help provide the necessary workforce for ag. This includes seasonal employees for some sectors but also those who would permanently move here to achieve green card status and perhaps eventually citizenship.
  • Not that this isn’t already on the radar of many, but we have to find a path to improve the quality of life in rural areas. This includes affordable, decent housing; access to healthcare; quality schools and educational opportunities; high-speed reliable internet allowing for business to be conducted from anywhere; amenities such as restaurants, movies, etc. There are organizations working on this but do we have the will to invest in our rural areas.