The average age of a farm operator in Colorado is 57. As both the world and state population continues to grow over the next decade, the future will hold more mouths to feed and a heap of opportunity for young people stepping into agriculture.
Yet many young people lack the capital to purchase land, equipment and water rights; they also may lack remaining funds to front operating expenses or, for out-of-staters, the know-how to recognize the importance of irrigation water in a semi-arid state like Colorado. These are some of the biggest challenges to building a viable farming business, says Jennifer Tucker Visitacion with Guidestone Colorado, an organization working to strengthen the food economy along the Arkansas River.
Tilling the ground isn’t the only way to get involved in agriculture, though. As career center liaison for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University, Beka Crocket sees a lot of interest in ranch management, conventional and organic farming, and animal production, but says there are hundreds of jobs that relate to agriculture. Career options range from grain merchandising, accounting, engineering, seed production and zoo keeping to entomology, agronomy, quality assurance, soil conservation, ethanol production and grain elevator management. Consulting, teaching, research and sales are still more options. The agricultural education majors that saw the highest employment rates in 2012 included soil and crop science, environmental horticulture, agricultural education and agricultural business.
Agricultural Career Toolkit
Programs across Colorado help people interested in agriculture get on the land or gain needed skills. Right now, take advantage of the National Future Farmers of America scholarship program. Or:
• Colorado Building Farmers helps new farmers and ranchers explore farming as a business and refine their business management, production and marketing skills. The classroom program is offered through Colorado State University Extension in at least eight counties around the state.
• To overcome financial hurdles, the ColoradoAgricultural Development Authority offers tax-exempt bonds for low-interest financing for the purchase of land and equipment. Land Link, a model used nationwide, matches retiring farmers with young counterparts needing land, while financially protecting both. Land Link is slowly becoming available across Colorado; a new matchmaking database launched in May.
• Opportunities for young people include programming by 4-H and the Future Farmers of America. An extracurricular program of Colorado State Extension, 4-H has no career bent, but a heavy agricultural focus with an aim toward leadership development for children ages 8 to 18. Future Farmers of America enrolls about
5,700 students in high school agricultural classes in 100 Colorado schools. Enrollees take on internships, apprenticeships or employment to gain real career experience.
• Academic programs for other agricultural careers are offered through Colorado’s top universities. Choose from the 39 graduate degree programs in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Colorado State University including economics, genetics and more; study engineering or law at the University of Colorado or University of
Denver; check out the new Water Studies minor at Metropolitan State University’s One World One Water Center or the water centers at Colorado Mesa University and Colorado State University.
Learn more about agriculture in Colorado in the latest issue of Headwaters magazine.