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Earning an Education in Farming (Part 1)

Farmer Perspective


As kids are raised in the lifestyle of agriculture, they can develop a love/hate relationship with the farm. Many (myself included) aspired to be “just like dad” at a young age and wanted nothing more than to follow in his footsteps.

It looks easy, right? Just feed the livestock and drive cool trucks, tractors and combines. At the time, it appeared that continuing my education beyond high school wouldn't provide much value to me as a farmer, since I had already been farming my entire life. As the cost of post-secondary education continues to rise, this way of thinking becomes more and more prevalent. But I’d argue that college can do a lot for a young farmer.

Earning an Education in Farming-thin banner

Consider a hypothetical farm family: Jon and Jan Smith and their three triplets, who all want to be involved on the farm. Jon and Jan both feel it would advantageous for their children to get college degrees before returning to the farm.

Young Joey has always helped dad tinker in the shop. If wrenches and oil were involved (mixed in with some timely cussing), Joey was there. There is a local community college that has partnered with a name brand machinery manufacturer to offer a top-notch Diesel Mechanics program. What farm today wouldn't want to have their own full time mechanic on staff?

Today's equipment is so complex that even though it costs $100/hour to get it worked on, we still have to hire someone to do a lot of the repairs. This degree would obviously need a lot of continuing education, but Joey would excel in this position. While attending school, Joey meets Jay, who comes from a neighboring town, and the two guys become great friends. Joey and Jay start the school’s first diesel tech club, which is a huge success for the program and its students.

Joey’s brother Jon has always been fascinated with the livestock sector of their family’s operation. He was always up before school helping with cattle and hog chores and just loves the smell of manure. Jon has been using a Pearson Square to formulate the perfect ration for the farm’s livestock since junior high.

Young Jon has a couple of choices for college, he could enroll in the animal science program at the same junior college as his brother, or he could also enroll at the top notch, in-state land grant university. In the end, Joey attended the university where he was introduced to Josh, a professor’s son who was in the Ag Systems Technology program. In school together, Joey and Josh worked with local farmers around the college town in restoring old hog barns and made some good money doing it.  

Last but not least, there is the eldest Jessie. Jessie, by nature, has always loved numbers and crops. She loves getting her fingers dirty in the soil, cutting open V10 corn plants, and then going home to calculate that hybrid’s cost/unit. Jessie has always been high on ROI for certain investments the farm is making. She is smart enough to know even she doesn't know it all, but she is well on her way.

Jessie didn't need any encouragement for a post-secondary education. She is going to the highly regarded in-state land grant university to major in Agronomy with a minor in Ag Business. Jessie was also active in clubs and professional groups on campus. She learned how to work with people and how to lead them, skills that would prove priceless later in life.

Now, let’s fast forward 10 years. All three children accomplished their post-secondary education goals and are actively involved in the family farm, but with a twist of fate that none of them saw coming.

Joey does all of the farms mechanics job, but also is a partner in a successful Ag Repair Shop with his friend, Jay, where they employ two full time mechanics.

Jon is fully invested in the operation’s livestock division and also helps develop and build new hog barns with college buddy Josh for producers across the entire Midwest.

Jessie assumed the role of CFO and agronomist for her parent’s farm and is a key decision-maker for the operation. Her extracurricular experience while in college really made her management material. 

I can guarantee that Jessie, Joey and Jon would tell you the importance of their college educations, but they will also stress the importance of the connections made while pursuing their college degrees. This part of the story sometimes gets left out when we’re talking about whether or not a college education is necessary to farm in today’s agriculture economy.

All three of our young farmers met people that they still network with and rely on today. Those connections helped them become the leaders they are now, and will continue to support them and influence them in the future.

The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and not those of Farmer's Business Network, Inc., its affiliates or members.  

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