Precision Ag and New Graduates


An opinion on how to close the gap

I look at the precision ag industry and I see an industry ripe for another breakout year in 2018. The industry has made great strides in the last several years and I think, like many others in the field, that the best is yet to come. Where it’ll be five or 10 years from now is anyone’s guess, but I’ll wager that we’ll see trends like big data, machine learning in ag, and automation of farm-related tasks continue to grow rather than decline in importance.

Agriculture is an industry that is prime for innovation in the field of labor-saving technology and labor automation in particular. Right now, one need not go any farther than websites, such as, to see that there is a lot of excitement in this space, and this will hopefully translate into the next generation of farmers, agronomists, and researchers taking up this mantle further in bringing innovative solutions to agriculture.

Generation next

One thing I think precision ag companies should keep in mind is that next generation. It might be a little self-serving for me to put it that way — okay, more than a little self-serving — but this industry, like all industries, needs to keep new blood flowing in if we want to see that innovation be brought to market year after year. It may just be me, but I think technology (and technology jobs) in ag will serve as a bulwark against demographic trends that will pinch North American agriculture in the future. There will always be farmers, of course, but a career in ag tech is another way to draw more young people into the industry who would otherwise be difficult to reach. With that being said, I think there are key issues that need to be addressed when it comes to reaching that new generation of precision ag professionals.

This isn’t to say that companies aren’t trying to reach millennials – quite the opposite, in my experience – but rather, that there’s a disconnect at the university/young adult level. As this sector matures, I bet we’ll see a greater push into precision ag companies from this age group, but I think the industry has to deal with a gap that needs to be filled.

Precision ag combines “old” with “new” and this leads to the future labor pool for the industry to be put into two camps. The first, the “techies,” the young people interested in tech careers, are casually interested in agriculture, but typically are looking for “prestige” jobs with more traditional tech companies. The precision ag industry is, after all, still waiting on the proverbial “Uber of ag” that changes everything. Until then, the people in this camp will stick to their guns and try to make it with “established” firms doing things like IT, software development and the like.

On the other hand, many of my peers in agricultural fields, in my observation, tend to be more inclined to follow a more traditional career path and oftentimes are interested more so in family-owned enterprises or traditional kinds of ag jobs than in small-to-medium sized companies striking out their own way in the ag technology field. Maybe it’s just a California thing, but this contrast I’ve noticed between “old” and “new” is troubling, simply because precision ag needs to attract people from both camps to meet in the middle – to close the proverbial “gap” – if we want to see continuous growth in this industry.

The question is, how do we close the “gap?” Part of it will come in due time as more jobs open up in this sector, the adoption of various technologies becomes more widespread, and the business side of the industry continues to grow in dollar amounts and in number of firms. But it need not be just a waiting game. There are things that can be done now, and I have a few easy suggestions for people and businesses that want to see the next generation get as excited about this industry as they are:

1. Get involved with students

One thing I’ve enjoyed about my time as an undergrad is that people in ag, regardless of which part of the industry they work in, seem to always have time to help a student with a problem if they send them an email or give them a call. If you are near a university, community college, or high school that offers an agriculture program, let a teacher or a professor know that you would be available to work on assignments with students, answer questions, or give advice on career choices or topics related to ag. Contact with industry professionals that are knowledgeable and friendly will do more to draw young people to the industry than just about anything else.

2. Consider an internship program

Admittedly, it can be a big undertaking for your company to start up an internship program if you don’t have one already. However, the benefits of an internship program work both ways — it can be a great way in for millennials that are curious about the industry, and it can be a great way to develop talent in-house, save money on some labor expenses on entry-level positions, and add someone to your team for a while with an ear to the ground on the latest practices being taught at the college level.

3. Make good company values a high priority

Yes, it sounds like business PR fluff. True, it’s a stereotype that young people want to work for companies that “give back,” but it isn’t just schmaltz – there’s a grain of truth to that, too. Showing young people that your company does care about the community is an easy, effective way to show them they aren’t just taking up a new job – they’re doing something a little bigger than that. Not to mention, it isn’t just something that helps your company’s image – studies show that your customers like it and employees of all ages like it, too. Best of all, it’s easy and oftentimes cheap (or even free) to do – spend some time volunteering or raising funds for an organization in your community – and people will notice.

Closing this gap won’t be easy, of course. I’m not saying that a weekend at an animal shelter with your coworkers is the key to all this. However, organizations that want to make the next generation of students as passionate for the industry as their employees are can do little things – today – to help make that happen.

Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted with permission of, a worldwide leader in precision agriculture information and analysis. For information, visit

The limiting factor to tech advancement – people

The Western Equipment Dealers Association is affiliated with a number of organizations and providers, including universities, that put a lot of effort into working with and grooming the next generation of dealership employees.

One such provider is AgriSync, an endorsed technology partner of the association. According to Casey Niemann, president of AgriSync, the common picture of farming progress is painted with new technology, higher than ever yields and more efficient operations. With the rapid pace of innovation, the human element that ultimately drives positive change in food and farming is often overlooked. While farm-level technologies leap forward, dealers experience labor shortages, particularly in precision agriculture and the service shop.

“To solve this problem, dealers are well-served by looking beyond their current employees to engage the workforce to come. This means investing in community, youth, and academic programs,” says Niemann. “AgriSync embraces that ethos by partnering with academic programs to help their students – the emerging experts – be equipped to provide high-level customer support and create customer satisfaction.”

Systems and technical experts-in-training learn to use AgriSync to provide the best service by seeing exactly what the farmer sees, often bringing greater speed to resolution. AgriSync also brings automatic service time tracking, smooth collaboration with team members and instant customer feedback about service quality.

To learn more about AgriSync’s academic partnerships, please contact

Editor’s note: AgriSync also offers WEDA members a first-time discount. Learn more by visiting

Article Written By Eric Michael Oeth

ERIC MICHAEL OETH is a graduate of the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Agribusiness program. He writes on issues concerning the precision agriculture industry, particularly as they relate to young people and job seekers. Please send questions and/or comments to Eric at



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