College News

Ag Instructor Vic Martin: Severe Worker in Agriculture – Help Wanted

Great Bend Tribune
Published November 7, 2021

As of November 2nd drought conditions improved in parts of the state while our area is unchanged except for dry conditions creeping a bit more from the NE corner of Barton County. The six to ten-day outlook (November 9 to 13) indicates above normal temperatures (40% to 50% chance) and above-normal precipitation (30% to 40% chance). The eight to fourteen-day outlook (November 11 to 17) indicates normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation (40% to 50% chance). We still haven’t experienced a killing freeze in most of our area yet. Today, while many sectors of the economy are experiencing labor shortages, the labor shortage in agriculture is becoming acute. What needs to happen?

This past Wednesday the Agriculture Program held its semi-annual advisory board meeting with stakeholders, including ag businesses. Whether on the production side or the equipment side, the concern was the same, a severe shortage of workers. A severe enough shortage to interrupt operations at times.  And in response, these businesses are increasing salaries and advertising extensively. The problem is two-fold. First a lack of applicants and people to fill positions. Second, a lack of qualified people to move into these positions.  So who do they and agriculture in general need?

  • People with a Class A CDL topped the list.  Overall, there is a shortage estimated at over 80,000 drivers. In agriculture, the shortage is particularly acute as trucks move the vast majority of ag products from grain and fertilizer to cattle heading to packing plants.  While commodities also move by rail and on the water, these commodities get to these over the road.  To add to the concern for businesses needing qualified drivers, as of early next year it will require more documented training and proof of knowledge to obtain a CDL. The training will have to be conducted at certified training facilities. Fortunately, Barton Community College is such a facility.
  • Another area of need is in the crop protection field, those applying fertilizers and pesticides on crop fields. These normally require a CDL and to have or be able to obtain a Commercial Applicators License. These are good-paying, high-tech jobs with excellent benefits and don’t require a four-year or in many cases a two-year degree but training along the lines of a certificate program. Again Barton Community College offers a certificate program in this area.
  • Employees in the cattle/feedlot sector are also needed and Barton has a certificate program in Beef Cattle Production. Here a CDL is also a great help in getting hired and for a higher wage.
  • Finally, all areas of ag business need qualified people with the necessary business background or a two- or four-year degree. And an area people don’t often think about but a critically understaffed area of great importance is in the area of equipment mechanic/technician. With today’s highly computerized equipment, trained technicians are paid well with excellent benefits.

One last thing, there aren’t enough people with agriculture backgrounds for these positions across ag. They need hard-working, competent individuals willing to learn regardless of background.