By Natalie Noble
Farm kids often dream to one day take over the family business and continue its legacy. However, for a variety of reasons, it’s not always possible. The good news for them is the trove of jobs within the industry beyond primary production. Three farm kids shared their experience with Farming for Tomorrow and how, despite being off-farm, still find themselves deeply embedded in agriculture.
Communicate and Create
Creative flair and strong interpersonal skills are coveted talents in the ag sector. That’s where Teresa Falk comes in. The agricultural communicator has worked across the Prairies in multiple marketing and writing positions since leaving the family farm near Snowflake, Man.
“My parents instilled their love of the farm into my brothers and I,” she says. “While I enjoyed growing up on the farm, in high school I became eager to go to university in the city and explore what opportunities were out there and I wanted to pursue communications.”
Today, Falk pours her love of farming into her work with a major ag retailer.
“What I really love about this job is the variety of work I do. Every day is different in terms of what I’m going to do that day and I love the creative aspect of it,” she says.
On any given day, Falk may be working remotely or at the head office in Regina, Sask. She plans events for customers, designs the company presence, she attends trade shows, collaborates with external advertising agencies, creates content and ads for various media channels.
“It’s agronomic-based, value-added content for our farmer customers to assist their day-to-day operation,” she says. “That’s the other part of my job I really love, everything we’re doing is with the purpose of helping western Canadian farmers.”
Falk’s career journey to Regina began at the University of Winnipeg where she achieved her bachelor of arts in communications, majoring in journalism. From there she worked at daily newspapers and magazines with no intent to work in agriculture.
“It’s interesting how life can sometimes lead you back to where you started,” she says. “A few editors with some agriculture publications approached me to see if I’d be interested in doing some agriculture writing because of my background, so that’s how I got back into the agriculture writing and communications field.”
Since then, she’s worked as a freelance writer and in communications positions for a number of ag not-for-profits in all three provinces. “That’s provided me with a well-rounded experience in this industry,” she says.
For anyone considering a similar career, Falk encourages continued learning to update skills and professional development.
“New technology and digital media continuously evolve so you have to keep up on trends,” she says. “And getting involved is so important because it’s an opportunity to network with like-minded individuals and learn from each other.”
Down to Business
Young minds with business acumen can take many roads throughout the ag industry. The destination need not be reached by a straight line either, as Jesse Cole, pricing supervisor with Agriculture Financial Services Corporation in Lacombe, Alta., has experienced.
His parents imbued an adventurous spirit into Cole. He and his sister grew up on the family farm near Clive, Alta. It’s served him well throughout his education and helped him successfully navigate twists and turns in his career.
Working in innovation and product development the last nine years, Cole says market research is a major daily focus. “We figure out what our farm clients want in terms of business risk management products, then we take that information and turn it into a work plan for the year to create enhancements and new products.”
Each year Cole typically spends two weeks in focus group style meetings with farmers. He then helps build out financial and risk management products, working with the rest of the organization, the federal and provincial governments and industry groups. There’s also technical writing, market research and lending involved. He’s also had unique opportunities, such as working to develop malt barley insurance.
Cole says he applied at the University of Alberta right after a distasteful incident he had working on manure spreader at a farm equipment dealership. “I didn’t know what to do, so I got into general sciences and general arts. After my first year I found out there was an ag business degree … so my focus shifted to that program.”
After achieving his bachelor of science in agricultural business management, Cole completed a master’s in agriculture and resource economics. “The undergrad program gives a good business background plus plant and animal science and lots of ag economics. That led to my economics degree after,” he says.
Cole credits his commitment to networking for opening doors through summer positions with Dow AgroSciences during school, and later as a research agronomist with Alberta government.
“In both my programs, the people who succeeded the most were the ones who were willing to go out and make their own connections,” he says. “Technical skills are obviously important, but your personality is what takes you to the next level. You have to find the people out there, go to farm shows and meetings to see what’s happening out in the world. Meet people to find out what you can do for them, and not just the other way around.”
Acres of Research
Using science to improve farmers’ options, production yield, quality and consumer choice can be a highly rewarding career in agriculture for research lovers.
Samantha Hink has enjoyed five years as a research technician at Nutrien’s Rosebank Research Farm, 15 minutes in either direction from her family farm and the city she resides in. She and her brother learned to respect hard work from their third-generation farming parents in south-central Manitoba. She does not plan to take over the farm, but her work allows her help out when needed. Her workday is just as varied as that on a grain farm, as well.
“We do crop variety research with a few different crops,” she says. “A typical day through the summer looks similar to what a farmer would be doing at the same time. We go through seeding, harvesting, spraying, maintenance, all the typical things the regular farmer is looking at, too.”
Where many research jobs see employees in a lab, Hink’s team spends their time in the field every day at the research farm. “No year is the same, and there’s always something new and challenging,” she says. “Right now, I’m quite happy where I’m at and plan to stay in research as long as I can. I really do love it.”
While Hink earned a bachelor of science in agronomy at the University of Manitoba, her education began years prior. Working ag-related summer jobs as a teen, she gained solid work experience and learned what she liked to do the most.
“I also had a summer research position for quite a few years as a university student and I always really enjoyed that work, so I knew the ag industry would probably be where I continued on,” she says. Her summer job eventually morphed into a full-time position that fall.
People who are excited about their careers often say you have to do what you love, and Hink agrees, but she also believes in exploring all opportunities.
“Someone gave me the advice when I was in university to try out different types of jobs—some in sales, communications, research—just trying different things to see what you really like,” she says. “I took a couple different classes in the first term to check out ideas where I thought I might have some interest outside of agriculture. Within a week, I knew for sure that I wanted to stay in ag, and I realized I was always most excited when I was doing research.”