If you think the food and agriculture industry is just for farmers, think again. This industry has a vast number of career opportunities extending well beyond the farm.
“The heart and soul of the food and agriculture industry are the farmers and their families. Their hard work and dedication is what fuels Michigan’s $91.4 billion food and ag industry,” says Mike Niesyto, a financial services officer for GreenStone Farm Credit Services in Ann Arbor. “With that said, many other professionals contribute to the success of the industry, such as lawyers, accountants, title insurance providers, commodity pricing specialists, economists, estate planners and the list goes on.”
Michigan’s food and agriculture sector employs a whopping 923,000 people. Roughly 73,000 of them work on the farm; the other 850,000 fill support positions off the farm.
In his role, Niesyto provides farmers and rural residents with financial products and services, including loans, leases and financial services such as crop insurance and tax and accounting products. Niesyto is a Central Michigan University graduate who majored in finance and minored in accounting.
“Prior to my experience with GreenStone FCS, I knew very little about rural America and farming,” Niesyto says. “Growing up in a city environment, I didn’t realize how much of an impact agriculture has on Michigan and the U.S.’s economy. A city boy knows little about farm operations, but with my strong desire to learn, I’ve given 110 percent to gather as much knowledge as possible about the industry, as well as each of my customers’ operations. Getting out of the office and onto the farms, riding in tractors and combines, and observing operations firsthand, have helped immensely.”
Jill Cords is a field career consultant for Michigan State University’s (MSU) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and she helps plan the college’s Agriculture and Food Industry Career Fair every fall. Many students who attend find internships that lead to full-time jobs.
“It’s really exciting to see the huge number of job opportunities available in agriculture. We’re way more than cows, plows and sows,” Cords says, chuckling. “The industry is constantly growing and changing, and we have the huge challenge of feeding the world’s growing population. We prepare students for a whole host of careers – some we train to work on farms in hands-on production agriculture, but also in the sciences, technology and the financial side.”
A record number of employers attended MSU’s Agriculture and Food Industry Career Fair in 2013, all of them looking for the “next class of problem-solvers,” Cords says.
“There is a lot of technology used in food and agriculture. One area we are hearing a lot of chatter about from employers is using iPads and other devices to collect data from the field,” she says. “Companies need students who know about software, packaging, processing, food safety, meat science and natural resources like protecting our water and the environment.”
MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers 19 different undergraduate majors, ranging from Animal Science and Biosystems Engineering to Entomology and Food Science.
“Our state is the second most diverse agriculture industry in the nation, so the opportunities are broad,” Cords says. “We have row crops and orchards, specialty crops like asparagus and blueberries, strong apple and cherry production, greenhouses and landscaping. There’s a misconception that you have to grow up on a farm to work in agriculture, but there’s always a need for new talent.”