Help (Still) Wanted In Ag Retail
What a year for the industry and for me! My home city of Cleveland, OH, ended its sports championship curse. I got to attend a luncheon during the Republican National Convention hosted by CropLife America, an amazing and frankly surreal experience. And my youngest son started his college odyssey (if anyone will be looking for a meteorologist in four years, drop me a line).
Then of course there was the election. It’s too early to tell what it will mean for ag if trade agreements are torched and rebuilt and immigrant labor is sent away as robustly as promised during the campaign — we’ll have to wait and see. But change seems almost certainly at hand, and not beholden to either political party.
This would really be enough to digest as we cruise into another new year, but the uncertainty doesn’t stop there. Consolidation up and down the crop production channel continues. The ag economy looks to be lagging another year, creating farmer investment uncertainty.
For better or worse, the retail distribution channel is the reliable pillar of stability amid all the change. I’ve heard it said dozens of times in dozens of ways this year that the traditional distribution channel is absolutely essential.
My boss, Jim Sulecki, the Content Director here at Meister Media Worldwide, sent down a PDF document from management consulting firm HighPath Consulting. Directed at farm managers and farmland investors, it outlined the challenges and opportunities in the use of technology in agriculture. Its assertions about how agriculture can cross the current gap in technology adoption included the following bullet point: “Align distribution of agtech products to the way farm inputs are marketed to farmers today — through trusted relationship models. Trying to disintermediate established distribution channels may take a long time.” Solid advice indeed.
All this is a long road to an issue that’s burning in my brain. If retailers are a critical link to the future, how do we get through the current crisis many of you are facing in silent desperation — the lack of qualified employees in mid-level management positions?
It came up again in a conversation I had in late September with a retail manager who was attending the CropLife America annual meeting. As we wound up our conversation I threw out the inevitable, “So what else is going on?” And he unleashed his deep concerns about filling open positions, and the backload of retirees who are on the brink of walking out with a motherlode of intellectual capital and nobody to pass it on to.
“When I get back home, I have a $150,000 management position I need to fill and have been unable to do so,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to get people to live and work in some rural areas.”
I hesitated to bring this up as it is a topic that I as an editor have no easy answers for. But this conversation has spurred other talks with retail managers that have similar tales of frustration and difficulty.
In 2017 we’re going to comb the distribution channel, and maybe some other industries, for new ideas and best practices for finding and retaining management, and try to contribute meaningfully to the conversation.
If we’re as big a component of the future as so many are saying, it’s more important than ever that we’re fully staffed and ready to lead.