Aidan Connolly is the President of AgriTech Capital, a food/farm futurologist, and author of “2-1-4-3, Plan your Explosive Business Growth,”
Consolidation means the total number working in global farming has never been smaller. Farm business is hard work, poorly paid and seasonal. When contrasted with more regular jobs in other industries, this causes a worker to rethink. Agriculture isn’t immune from the “Great Resignation,” and McKinsey analysts have recently shown that this trend will continue.
According to David Turner, president of Kincannon & Reed, an executive search firm focusing on placing food and agribusiness executives, “Today, it’s taking 20% longer to get new leaders in place, with 30% higher compensation, including extra considerations such as work location, flexibility, bonuses and equity. And on top of that, companies have to decide 50% faster since top talent has as many as three offers.”
There are seven key challenges to be aware of and develop strategies for overcoming.
1. Recruiting Difficulties
The struggle for talent is real, with “an estimated shortage of about 22,000 college graduates with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable resources or the environment.” How do we convince graduates that food and farming is the business for them, especially in competition with new industries? Although the challenge is great, it’s one faced by many industries (e.g., mining, chemicals and automobiles). However, agriculture can always point out its centrality—producing food is always a noble career!
2. Competitive Compensation Packages
Although in the past, many saw the food business and farming as a vocation, this is no longer the case. To compete, it’s imperative to offer a competitive salary along with flexible working conditions, vacation time, the latest technology, healthcare insurance and more, which is just as important as in other industries—maybe more. If the package isn’t right from the beginning, the best candidates never even consider an agribusiness position or a specific firm.
3. Talent Development
People development and training are great ways to attract talent to join and stay with your company. In-house education programs can help agriculture companies grow their own stars and save money over finding talent in other companies. Many shy away from this commitment as too expensive and time-consuming. And what happens if they decide to leave? As I once heard one trainer opine, “Is it better to train your people and risk having them leave, or not train them and risk having them stay?”
The power of diversity is well understood, and evidence shows that diverse teams in terms of culture, ethnicity and gender make better decisions in disruptive times. Agriculture management has traditionally been male and culturally homogenous in almost all countries. Even as efforts are being made to address diversity, it’s challenging to embrace this change when farms and farm businesses are often based in small rural communities.
5. Multi-Generation Transitions
Farm employees tend to be older, which only increases the challenges in a world where aging workforces mean that two workers will retire as one new worker enters the marketplace. How do we ensure a better transition from farm executives and managers to the next generation? Is retirement the only answer, or can roles be created that allow for as many as three family generations to work on a farm together?
6. Foreign Language Skills
It’s easy to see that workers in agriculture are often from other countries. The U.S. is familiar with its reliance on overseas labor, but you may be surprised to discover that food factory workers in Ireland are often from Brazil. In Brazil, they’re from Cuba, and in Thailand, they come from Laos. In the U.K., cows are often milked by farm labor from Poland or the Baltics. As the food business seeks to attract workers from other countries, it puts an emphasis on managers with multilingual skills. Many U.S. agriculture programs and companies are encouraging and supporting managers in learning Spanish because that’s the most common language on the farm. The availability of apps to translate spoken or written words on smartphones or devices may herald another solution.
7. Ag Technology Expertise
As agriculture becomes more technical and automated, food and agriculture executives are making complex and expensive decisions about what technologies to invest in. Robots, sensors, blockchain, artificial intelligence and extended reality require different levels of knowledge. If you’re not able to hire teams and managers with science, information technology and engineering backgrounds, as well as traditional farming skills, this may be better addressed by cross-functional teams of nontraditional hires. In a rapidly urbanizing world, farming also faces the challenge that candidates won’t necessarily have grown up on a farm.
Farming and food’s “people problem” must be solved by starting at the top, hiring a new generation of executives who are open-minded, technologically savvy and diverse to occasion the changes to solve our most difficult food challenges: feeding the planet sustainably and profitably. Those new leaders will show the world the way forward.
Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?