According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), agriculture (AG) and its related industries provide only 10.9 percent of U.S. employment. That’s about 3.7 million employees, a relatively small number compared to mammoth industries like professional and business services, which employ about 23 million people, and health and education services, which combined employ about 35.4 million (Statista). From these numbers, we can assume a couple of things:
- The agriculture industry has room for growth.
- Executive AG recruitment is a challenging proposition due to the relatively small number of experts in the field (no pun intended).
This article explores best practices in executive recruitment within the agricultural industry. Focusing on nurturing growth, it delves into the unique considerations, challenges, and strategies for attracting top talent for agriculture leadership roles.
Understanding the Agricultural Landscape
Without question, agriculture is one of the most critical sectors of the world economy. After all, our very existence as a species depends on it. Environmental and sustainability expert Denisa Ogoyi asserts, “Agricultural development is one of the most powerful tools to combat extreme poverty, boost prosperity, and feed the global population” (Earth.org).
Currently, this crucial industry faces many challenges, for which they need strong leaders with a growth mindset to see them through and pave the way forward. These challenges include, but are not limited to:
- Climate Change – Changing weather patterns have led to weather extremes and droughts that have enormously impacted food production.
- Rising Costs – High fuel costs and crucial supplies like fertilizers have severely impacted farmers and ranchers.
- Compromised Arable Land – Arable (farmable) land is degrading and disappearing due to traditional unsustainable farming practices and urbanization.
- AG Labor Shortage – American Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Joby Young says that, “The lack of farmworkers continues to be U.S. agriculture’s most frustrating challenge.”
- Low Investment – Even though agriculture produces raw materials necessary for international trade, employs millions of people and feeds the world, investors are often hesitant to put money behind it because of its volatile returns.
- Politics – The government likes to involve itself heavily in the AG industry. For instance, the Farm Bill, typically renewed every five years, allows policymakers (generally not farmers) to develop and enact farm legislation and administer its execution. To ensure the sector’s growth, then, strong leaders must be in place to advocate in its best interests.
Leveraging Industry Knowledge
With so many factors to consider, industry knowledge is the most essential quality for an executive AG recruiter. Many general business sectors look for similar (dare I say ‘somewhat generic’?) qualities and skillsets for their executive and mid-level managers. I’m not saying those characteristics aren’t necessary; I’m simply suggesting that a more extensive selection of candidates have them. However, Agricultural leadership requires these skills and more, as it is highly specialized. Your recruiters need to know the AG landscape backward and forward to recognize top-notch talent with all the requisite skills when they see it. As evidenced by the previous section, they need to find candidates who are businesspeople, economists, environmentalists, lobbyists, public relations specialists, AND authorities in the science of 21st-century farming.
Building Strategic Partnerships with Specialized Recruitment Firms
Clearly, to source and assess candidates effectively, agriculture-related organizations need to build strategic partnerships with recruitment firms that are as highly specialized as the industry is. A ‘somewhat generic’ recruiter who would do a first-rate job finding an executive retail manager might have a hard time getting the job done, mainly because they won’t have the right network to source talent.
A reputable AG executive recruiting firm should have accumulated years of experience. During that time, they’ll have built a strong network of leading AG professionals and can put that network to use for you. Their deep resources increase your candidate pool exponentially.
Diversity in any industry is always the best practice, leading to a wealth of fresh opinions, ideas, and ways of looking at and solving problems. In agriculture, diversity is particularly important because the industry often involves international trading. Find a recruiting firm that values diversity (hint: what does their workforce look like?) as much as you do and can help you bring that vital element to your organization and keep you relevant in today’s global marketplace.
Sustainability via Ongoing Development
A sustainable workforce is imperative to growth. Turnover affects productivity, and low productivity leads to stagnation or failure. To combat the perils of turnover and assure ongoing growth, develop a pipeline approach with your executive agriculture recruiters rather than a one-and-done mentality.
Be open to new talent whenever they find it, and stretch to accommodate it if possible. After all, stretching makes room for growth, and a robust pipeline assures you are never without the leadership to manage that growth.
By Octavio Lepe
Octavio is the search practice leader for Executive Management, Food & Agriculture, Sales & Marketing, and D&I in the Americas.
Barbachano International is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Canada, and Latin America) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets. Outplacement, Exe