Agribusiness Technician

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Overview

Agribusiness technicians combine their agriculture and business backgrounds to manage or offer management consulting services to farms and agricultural businesses. Agribusiness technicians, also called agricultural business technicians and farm and home management advisers, generally work as liaisons between farms and agricultural businesses, representing either the farm or the business.

School Subjects
Agriculture
Business
Personal Skills
Leadership/management
Technical/scientific
Work Environment
Indoors and outdoors
Primarily multiple locations
Minimum Education Level
Associate’s degree
Salary Range
$22,240 to $68,350
Certification or Licensing
None available
Outlook
About as fast as the average
GOE
03.01.01

History

The marketing of agricultural products first concerned farmers in the early 20th century. Cooperative organizations were formed in the 1920s, allowing farmers to control the marketing of their commodities, but farmers still struggled to make profits. It was about this time that the field of agricultural economics evolved; the International Association of Agricultural Economics was established in 1929.

The Dust Bowl of the 1930s complicated farm economics further, leading to New Deal legislation. Under the New Deal, which enacted the first effective farm legislation in the United States, the secretary of agriculture could control crop production. In the following years, agriculture expanded as a result of scientific advances and better methods of planting and harvesting. By the 1960s, marketing had become much more complicated for farmers, leading to the development of agribusiness as a major career field. Today, agribusiness is much larger than the farming industry; two-thirds of each dollar spent on food goes toward processing, packaging, marketing, and retailing, with only one-third going to the farm.

The Job

Agribusiness is as diverse a field as agriculture, and it involves professionals in economics, sales, marketing, commodities, science, and other areas. Technicians assist these professionals. They may work for a farm or for a business or organization that assists farmers. They may spend their workdays out in the field or behind a desk or a combination of these two. Their work may focus on such areas as grain, livestock, or dairy farm production.

Some agribusiness technicians choose to go into business management, working as part of a personnel-management office for a large corporate farm or dairy. In such a position, the technician manages staff, coordinates work plans with farm managers, and oversees the entire salary structure for farm or other production workers. Other agribusiness technicians work as purchasing agents, supervising all the buying for large commercial farms. Another option for the agribusiness technician is to work as a farm sales representative, finding the best markets for the produce of farms on a local, state, or national level. In this capacity, the technician travels a great deal and works closely with records technicians and other personnel of the farm or farms he or she represents.

Some agribusiness technicians assist farmers with record keeping. The records that farmers and other agricultural business people must keep are becoming more detailed and varied every year. Agribusiness technicians may set up complete record-keeping systems. They analyze records and help farmers make management decisions based on the accumulated facts. Computerized record keeping is common now, so there is a tremendous need for agricultural records technicians who can create tailor-made programs to help farmers get maximum benefit from their output. Furthermore, they analyze the output and make practical applications of the information.

In some positions, such as agricultural quality control technician, the technician works directly with farmers but is employed by another company. Dairy production field-contact technicians, for example, serve as contact people between dairy companies and the farms that produce the milk. They negotiate long- or short-term contracts to purchase milk and milk products according to agreed-upon specifications; meet with farmers to test milk for butterfat content, sediment, and bacteria; and discuss ways to solve milk-production problems and improve production. They may suggest methods of feeding, housing, and milking to improve production or comply with sanitary regulations. They may set up truck routes to haul milk to the dairy; solicit membership in cooperative associations; or even sell items such as dairy-farm equipment, chemicals, and feed to the farmers they contact.

Poultry field-service technicians represent food-processing companies or cooperative associations. They inspect farms to ensure compliance with agreements involving facilities, equipment, sanitation, and efficiency. They also advise farmers on how to improve the quality of their products. Technicians may examine chickens for evidence of disease and growth rate to determine the effectiveness of medication and feeding programs. They may then recommend changes in equipment or procedures to improve production. They inform farmers of new techniques, government regulations, and company or association production standards so they can upgrade their farms to meet requirements. They may recommend laboratory testing of feeds, diseased chickens, and diet supplements. In these cases, they often gather samples and take them to a laboratory for analysis. They report their findings on farm conditions, laboratory tests, their own recommendations, and farmers’ reactions to the company or association employing them.

Agribusiness technicians also work for credit institutions that solicit the business of farmers, make appraisals of real estate and personal property, organize and present loan requests, close loans, and service those loans with periodic reviews of the borrower’s management performance and financial status. They also work as farm representatives for banks, cooperatives, or federal lending institutions. In this capacity they sell their organizations’ services to farmers or agricultural business people, make appraisals, and do the paperwork involved with lending money.

Requirements

High School

In high school, you should take social studies, laboratory science (biology, chemistry, or physics), mathematics, and, if possible, agriculture and business classes. English and composition will be particularly helpful, since oral and written communications are central to the work of the agribusiness technician. Also, take computer classes so that you are familiar with using this technology. Computers are often used in record keeping and production planning.

Postsecondary Training

After completing high school, it is necessary to train in a two-year agricultural or technical college. Many colleges offer associate’s degrees in agribusiness or agricultural management. The programs concentrate on basic economic theory; training in management analysis and practical problem solving; and intensive communications training, such as public speaking and report writing.

Typical first-year courses in an agricultural or technical college include English, biology, health and physical education, introductory animal husbandry, principles of accounting, agricultural economics, microbiology, botany, introductory data processing, soil science, and principles of business.

Typical second-year courses include marketing agricultural commodities, farm management, social science, agricultural finance, agricultural marketing institutions, forage and seed crops, personnel management, and agricultural records and taxation.

Other Requirements

You must be able to work well with other people, including being able to delegate responsibility and establish friendly relations with farmers, laborers, and company managers. You must be able to analyze management problems and make sound decisions based on your analysis. And you must have excellent oral and written communications skills: Technicians are expected to present written and oral reports, offer comments and advice clearly, and, when necessary, train other workers for a particular job.

Exploring

Unusual Organizations
You’ve heard of dairy, beef, and pork associations - but how about these other agricultural groups?
.American Alligator Council
.American Emu Association
.Great Plains Bison Association
.Mushroom Council
.National Christmas Tree Association
.National Hot Dog and Sausage Council

Try to get summer or part-time employment in your desired specialty—for example, a clerical job in a farm insurance agency or as a laborer in a feed and grain company. Because many technical colleges offer evening courses, it may be possible to obtain permission during your senior year to audit a course or even to take it for future college credit. Work experience on a farm will give you insight into the business concerns of farmers, as will industry periodicals such as Farm Journal (http://www. farmjournal.com) and Grain Journal (http://www.grainnet. com). Join your high school’s chapter of the National FFA Organization (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) or a local 4-H group, where you may have the opportunity to work on farm-management projects.

Employers

Many different agriculture-based businesses hire graduates of agribusiness programs. Employers include large commercial farms, grain elevators, credit unions, farm equipment dealerships, farm supply stores, fertilizer and processing plants, agricultural chemical companies, and local, state, and federal government agencies.

Starting Out

Your agribusiness program will likely require a semester or more of employment experience and will assist you in finding an internship or part-time job with agribusiness professionals. Many students are able to turn their internships into full-time work or make connections that lead to other job opportunities. Most agribusiness technician jobs are considered entry-level, or management trainee, positions and don’t require a great deal of previous experience. These jobs are often advertised in the classifieds or posted with career placement centers at community colleges.

Advancement

The ultimate aim of many technicians is to own a business. Technicians can start their own companies in any agricultural business area or act as freelance agents under contract to perform specific services for several firms. For example, an experienced agribusiness technician may purchase a computer and data-processing equipment, set up the necessary record-keeping programs, and act as a consulting firm for a host of farms and agricultural businesses.

There are many other positions an agribusiness technician may hold. Farm managers oversee all operations of a farm and work closely with owners and other management, customers, and all farm departments on larger farms. Regional farm credit managers supervise several of a bank’s farm representatives. They may suggest training programs for farm representatives, recommend changes in lending procedures, and conduct personal audits of randomly selected farm accounts. Sales managers act as liaisons between company sales representatives and individual dealers, distributors, or farmers.

Earnings

Salaries for agribusiness technicians ranged from less than $22,240 to more than $68,350 in 2004. The median annual salary for this career in 2004 was $41,270. Fringe benefits vary widely, depending upon the employer. Some amount to as much as one-third of the base salary. More and more employers are providing such benefits as pension plans, paid vacations, insurance, and tuition reimbursement.

Work Environment

Because the field is so large, working environments may be anywhere from a corporate office to a corn field. Those who work in sales are likely to travel a good deal, with a few nights spent on the road or even a few weeks spent out of the country. Technicians at banks or data-processing services usually work in clean, pleasant surroundings. The technician who goes into farm management or who owns a farm is likely to work outdoors in all kinds of weather.

Agribusiness technicians are often confronted with problems requiring careful thought and decision. They must be able to remain calm when things get hectic, to make sound decisions, and then to stand by their decisions in the face of possible disagreement. It is a profession that requires initiative, self-reliance, and the ability to accept responsibilities that may bring blame at times of failure as well as substantial rewards for successful performance. For those technicians who possess the qualities of leadership and a strong interest in the agricultural business, it can be a challenging, exciting, and highly satisfying profession.

Outlook

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, agribusiness provides employment to about 21 percent of the country’s labor force. Despite the fluctuations in the agricultural industry, agribusiness professionals and technicians will continue to be in great demand in the marketing and production of food and other agricultural products.

Agribusiness technicians may find more opportunities to work abroad; agribusiness plays a large part in global trade issues and in the government’s efforts to support farms and agricultural reforms in other countries, such as with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program with the Russian Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Agribusiness construction is a subfield that is developing as a result of these reforms; technicians will be needed to assist in the planning and construction of farm-to-market roads in other countries, irrigation channels, bridges, grain silos, and other improvements.

For More Information

To learn about the roles economists play in agriculture, visit the AAEA Web site.

American Agricultural Economics Association

(AAEA)

415 South Duff Avenue, Suite C

Ames, IA 50010-6600

Tel: 515-233-3202

http://www.aaea.org

For more information on opportunities in the agricultural field, schooling, and these organizations, contact

4-H

Families, 4-H & Nutrition

CSREES/USDA

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20250-2225

Tel: 202-720-2908

http://www.4h-usa.org

For information on careers and chapter membership, contact

National FFA Organization

National FFA Center

PO Box 68960

Indianapolis, IN 46268-0960

Tel: 317-802-6060

http://www.ffa.org

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