Last Word: People

I have to admit that it is truly a relief to be putting the finishing touches on this final edition for 2012. We’re clearly banking on the Mayan calendar being in error, because we got all the editors involved and called a lot of retailers to get your take on where we are as an industry … and what that will mean for us going into 2013. (If the Mayans were right, it’s been a pleasure serving you.)

The Croplife 100 retailers cover story, along with our 4th annual State of the Industry report, hits on virtually everything you discussed with us, from agronomy to regulation to business management and technology. The only really important subject area I think we hit ‘once over lightly” is people — or more specifically, recruiting and retaining superior talent.

In part, this is because we already expended a lot of energy on the topic, with a three part series from September through last month. But this certainly does not diminish the weight of the subject. In talking to a number of folks about it, and attending some interesting sessions like our recent PACE Advisory Council meeting, a couple of issues came to the fore, and made me think more broadly about the issue.

At PACE, where the conversation tends to wander from topic to topic, it occurred to me how broadly and profoundly that biotech crops affected the industry. In addition to the financial toll it took on retailers due to lost weed and insect control revenue, it really tamped down the enthusiasm for agriculture overall. I can remember vividly back in 2003, five years into my experience in this market thinking to myself, “is there any future for me in this market? If farming has become so easy, is there any hope for the full-service retailer?”

I was too green to know that when nature is one of the variables at play, nature will inevitably win out. But it took long enough to happen that it caused a real gap in the number of folks that saw a bright future in ag.
Today, there’s a different dynamic in place. Farming is complex, technological, exciting and highly profitable. Farmers need advice and assistance, and farm kids are going back to the farm, leaving slim pickings as far as finding qualified employees for rural businesses like us in ag retailing. And of course, as one retailer said to me, “there are people out there looking for jobs, but not that many you would actually want working on your team.”

From internship programs to job fairs to creative incentive programs, retailers are trying their best to attract and keep the best. We as a media company do our best within these pages and in everything we do to reach out to the world to portray our industry in a positive light. We absolutely believe in the viability of the full-service retailer.

One thing we are supporting through our affiliate organization, the PrecisionAg Institute, is the hosting of a series of conference call discussions between Institute partners and two- and four-year colleges featuring ag technology or precision agriculture education tracks. The hope is that these colleges will build on or create courses of study that focus on technology education in ag, and create more excitement about agriculture as a career.

It’s a small step, but it is going to take many small steps to increase and improve the talent pool for retailers in the future.  

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