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Meet agricultural employees of the future

Gil Gullickson 02/28/2013 @ 8:26am Crops Technology Editor for Successful Farming magazine/Agriculture.com

Want to make $300,000 per year?

That’s what several large farms in need of a farm manager are willing to pay for a few positions that Greg Duerksen is trying to fill. Duerksen, president of Kincannon Reed, a global executive search firm, notes these farms grow wheat, rice, canola, and other commodity crops.

“These (positions) are not common now, but they will be in the future,” he says. Duerksen was a panelist at the Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum that preceded this week’s Commodity Classic in Kissimmee, Florida. 

They reflect the changes occurring as farmers morph from owner/operators who did all farm tasks themselves toward chief executive officers who manage others to do these tasks.

“It is a difficult transition for people to switch from being a doer to being a leader or manager, he says.
It’s a necessary one, though, given the size and scope of growing farms.

“Today, we have famers who farm in diverse geographies over continents, or at least several states,” he says. “They need skilled managers and operators.”

Changing labor picture

There’s a shift occurring in agriculture for highly skilled workers who can fix and run tools like precision farming technology and complicated machinery. Migrant labor, for example, conjures up visions of sweat-soaked workers gathering fruits and vegetables in sun-scorched fields. Dirksen says this vision is shifting toward skilled equipment operators who can charge up to $100 per hour for their services.

“The new one (migrant worker) is a qualified, talented and skilled worker who knows equipment and how to fix it,” he says. “They are independent contractors who follow equipment around the country.”

He notes a couple creative entrepreneurs with day jobs with major corporations have side enterprises where they fly in skilled equipment operators from Eastern Europe. Acting as a go-between, they pay these workers while lining up fee-for-service repair and service work on agricultural equipment running during peak operating seasons. 

Places where agricultural talent is being found are changing, too. One trend in the past six years or so involves recruiting top talent from cities and small liberal arts colleges, rather than solely relying upon land-grant universities. 

“Talent trumps all,” he says. 

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