If you’re interested in an exciting career in Missouri’s top economic industry, look no further than agriculture.

According to a recent study commissioned by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Missouri Farm Bureau, agricultural jobs across the state employed more than 378,232 people who, in total, earned a collective labor income of $17.5 billion. Missouri also consistently ranks as one of the top performing agricultural economies in the U.S.

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As a result, it’s easy to see that careers in agriculture abound in Missouri. The best part? Regardless of your educational background or experience level, there’s an opportunity for you in the diverse, inclusive agriculture sector.

Chunyu Chen

Chunyu Chen. Photo by Jeffrey S. Otto

No Ag Background? No Problem

Chunyu Chen earned a master’s degree in statistics from Michigan State University and applied for a job with Bayer, formerly Monsanto Co. – a global modern agriculture company based in St. Louis and one of the state’s top private sector employers – after one of his professors encouraged him to pursue the position, even though he didn’t have a background in agriculture.

Chen is now an analytics data scientist in Bayer’s technology and global breeding. He says this position provides him opportunities to use his statistical background “to help improve the plant-breeding process and achieve more genetic gain, and eventually help feed the world’s population.” In addition, Chen takes pride in “knowing that a single change in my statistical model could make a billion-dollar business impact.”

Surprisingly, Chen’s story isn’t unique. Many of his colleagues at Bayer are also new to the agriculture industry.

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“Many of our new hires on the [technology and global breeding] team do not have an agriculture background,” Chen says. “We have people from physics, statistics, engineering and other specialties who joined the company recently. We’re looking for smart people with diverse backgrounds to bring new ideas.”

Missouri FFA Leads to Ag Careers

While you don’t need a background in agriculture to get a job in the industry, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Both Jamie and Steven Rogers of Springfield grew up on farms, and participated in Missouri FFA. Their experiences growing up led them to pursue agricultural careers in adulthood.

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“Many people with agriculture backgrounds chose an agriculture career because they love the people in the industry and they have an underlying passion for serving others,” Steven says. “All careers in agriculture are ultimately about serving others by providing people with safe, nutritious food and other agricultural products that make life better.”

Steven currently serves as agricultural education supervisor for the Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, providing support and leadership for Missouri agriculture teachers and FFA advisors.

Jamie works for the family limestone quarry, Lile Quarry, Inc., and they both operate Rogers Cattle Company and Lile Farms with their father, Jim Lile.

Jamie and Steven both credit FFA with preparing them for successful careers.

“Agriculture education gives a unique opportunity for students to learn hands-on, practical skills that they can use the rest of their lives,” Jamie says. “Students have the chance to develop job and entrepreneurship skills that put them ahead as they enter the workforce or start their own businesses.”

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And there are plenty of job openings that require these hard-earned practical skills.

“There are over 235 unique careers in agriculture,” Steven says. “They range from farming and ranching to processing to marketing to research to developing technology. All of these careers require a strong work ethic and the ability to communicate effectively.”