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Want a Job? Go to Work on the Farm, Says Michigan Agri-Business Leader

One Solution to Unemployment May Be in Farm Jobs That Now Pay Better

November 13, 2011       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a series on opportunities and needs for agriculture in Michigan, specifically the Great Lakes Bay Region.)

A recent conference held by the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce highlighted the potential for increased economic growth of the bay region based on agriculture.

Since then Jim Byrum of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, the most aggressive promoter of the region at a seminar featuring several ag leaders held in conjunction with the conference, has outlined in more detail how policy leaders can enhance rural development.

Michigan's food and agriculture industry is more than a $70 billion share of the state's economy , says Mr. Byrum in analyzing agriculture's workforce challenges.

"Perhaps the greatest challenge we face in rural Michigan is finding the right people to work in our industries," says Mr. Byrum, citing a shortage of available, qualified workers in many areas and adding:

"Many have lamented the challenges of helping young adults from rural areas find jobs and a quality of life sufficient to keep them in rural towns, or to draw them back to rural areas after pursuing higher education.

Mr. Byrum candidly admits "the agricultural industry has done a poor job of explaining the 'new' agricultural industry, and the jobs available at all skill levels, primarily in rural Michigan. Stereotypical ag jobs highlighted by low pay, dust, long hours, little demand for skills and poor working conditions have long been replaced by job opportunities driven by technology, highly skilled positions and competitive wages and benefits."

Half the managers of complex grain and agronomy facilities are nearing retirement, he said, noting "finding their replacements will not be easy."

While there are almost no candidates for grain merchandising or trading positions, these jobs command great wage and benefit packages and security, he said.

Regarding jobs in dairy, pork, poultry, fruit and vegetable farms, many of these operations provide health care and other benefits and pay well over the minimum wage. "It has simply been very difficult, if not impossible, to find workers locally to do these jobs on a reliable basis," said Mr. Byrum.

Pointing to the Agricultural Technology program at Michigan State University as a "solid choice" for advanced education, he noted that many community colleges do not offer agricultural courses.

"Perhaps the most vexing problem in agriculture is finding lower skilled workers to harvest crops, milk cows and handle other agricultural chores," said Mr. Byrum. "While comprehensive immigration and guest worker legislation could solve the problems, it seems that Congress is distracted by the broader issue of immigration and ignoring the fact that we need people to do this work."

He noted that the industry has lost production and quality has been hampered because of the lack of labor and delayed harvests.

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at

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