An estimated 850 Wisconsin members from Future Farmers of America gathered April 1 at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton for Wisconsin’s 43rd annual Agriculture Day.
Students came from 70 high schools to have their projects judged and learn more about careers in agriculture and post-secondary education offerings for students interested in pursing a career in agriculture.
In Wisconsin, agriculture contributes $88.3 billion to the state’s economy and every one job in agriculture supports 1½ other jobs, said Jeff Lyon, deputy secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
“Agriculture is a huge industry in Wisconsin. It’s not just those working on the farms, but all those who support the work being done on the farm, whether it’s people working at the grain elevator, the people repairing equipment or someone working for a cheese manufacturer,” he said.
The ag industry is in serious need of qualified workers, said Tom Bressner of the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association.
“Whatever your interest, if you have the right skills, you’ll find a job in agriculture,” he said.
Those “right” skills include having good people skills, being able to work well with technology and interested in learning new skills, he continued. “Having good people skills will definitely take you to the next level,” Bressner said.
Keith Braun of Agropur said technology is prevalent throughout the ag industry. “There are computers that run the tractors,” he said. “When people visit a farm or any other ag business, I think they’re surprised by what they all see.”
Being open to new ideas and learning new skills is also important, said FVTC alum Dylan Malson, dairy operations manager at Omro Dairy. “I still stay in touch with my FVTC classmates even though I graduated four years ago,” he said. “I’ll call them up and pick their brains about different subjects. You have to be willing to get better and learn more.”
Kevin Sommer of Service Motor Company said students who have a passion for agriculture – for example by being active in FFA – impresses potential employers. “It shows you have your head in the game and you’re driven to succeed,” he said.
Although Dave Coggins doesn’t work on a farm, he deals with them and other ag industries through his work as chief banking officer with Investors Community Bank. He stressed that successful employees are those who are willing to collaborate with others.
“We definitely put a premium on people skills and those who are willing to work together as a team,” he said.
While the ag industry contributes a lot to the state’s economy, most consumers are ill informed about modern farming, said Mike Austin, an ag journalist who hosted the panel discussion.
“It’s important that all of us in this room share the facts and communicate ag news via social media,” he said, adding that if farmers don’t share their stories that anti-ag activists will fill the void.
Coggins said consumers are most concerned about GMOs, animal welfare and food safety. “We need to help shape their knowledge and tell our stories proactively,” he said.
Agriculture is “too important of an industry to be pushed to the bottom of the page,” Bressner said. “We have an abundant, safe food supply and we can’t forget that.”