You may have heard the surprising statistic that less than 2% of Americans are directly employed as farmers and ranchers today, but did you know that more than 22 million Americans are employed in agriculture-related fields? The agriculture industry accounts for about 11% of United States employment, both on and off the farm.
“It’s so important for students to understand all the job opportunities available in agriculture, and it goes way beyond farming,” says Deb Ihm, director of agriculture at Southwest Tech in Fennimore. “One farmer can’t stay in production by himself – he needs a support network, and that’s the industry sector. There’s something for everybody in agriculture if they are willing to learn the industry and think broadly.”
Agriculture-related jobs include food and beverage manufacturing, forestry, fishing, textile and apparel manufacturing, and many others.
“We serve a lot of students who intend to work on a farm in production agriculture, but we also have degree programs on the industry side, such as agronomy, animal science and agribusiness management,” Ihm says. “Equipment dealerships are looking for quality technicians to work for them, and our Agricultural Power & Equipment Technician program trains them for that career. Ag-Power students have a career goal of working as a dealership tech or being the main mechanic on a farm. In spring 2019, our entire Ag-Power class was hired before graduation, which was a very proud moment for us.”
Students at Southwest Tech often spend one or two years completing an agriculture-related degree program and are then ready to be hired.
“About three-quarters of our students already know what their job is going to be at graduation,” Ihm says.
Maxwell Udelhoven was one of them. The 20-year-old graduated from Southwest Tech in May 2020 with an associate degree in agribusiness-animal science and immediately went to work as an artificial insemination (A.I.) technician for CentralStar Select Sires in Waupun.
“It’s my dream job,” Udelhoven says. “Out of high school, I knew I wanted to breed cows, so I took an A.I. training course.”
Udelhoven spent two years completing his degree at Southwest Tech and worked as an intern for CentralStar Select Sires during summer 2019.
“During the internship, I rode along with A.I. technicians, learned their routes, and then went out on my own to heat detect and breed cows,” Udelhoven says. “I continued to work for them part time after the internship ended, which was pretty nice.”
At Southwest Tech, Udelhoven received lots of hands-on training and valuable experiences.
“We learned to breed cows there,” he says, “and I had communications and agribusiness management classes that helped me learn to talk to people, communicate well and ask all the right questions.”