Matching Farmers with Students to Overcome Labor Shortages
By Eric Bohl
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown ordinary routines out the window and disrupted even the best-laid plans. Farmers are no exception. Even when workers get sick and elected officials order quarantines, agriculture must go on. Maintaining the food supply is essential, and the planting window doesn’t wait for anything.
High school and college students have also had their lives massively disrupted. Most will not return to school until this fall, with in-person classes cancelled into the summer. Since they were expecting to be in class through at least mid-May, these students are largely now at home and not employed. Students with a background in agriculture or hoping to enter the field after graduation could gain a lot from hands-on experience during this busy time on the farm.
Missouri Farm Bureau recognized an opportunity to match these young agriculturalists with farmers who need extra help. If done right, this could help solve problems for everyone involved. That’s why we have teamed up with Missouri-based startup AgButler to develop MO AgConnection.
MO AgConnection connects students who are home with producers who need help. The simple platform lets farmers and ranchers post jobs for which they need extra help. Jobs are categorized into Livestock, Crops, Transportation, Construction, and Other. Farmers can include details about the work and the dates and times that they need help.
Students looking for work and experience can then search for opportunities in their local area. These real-life on-the-job experiences can teach students necessary skills. Farmers understand the importance of social distancing, sanitizing equipment and keeping employees safe during the pandemic.
AgButler is offering this service for free through the end of June to help farmers and students gain a foothold during this crisis. Students and farmers can access the platform at AgButlerApp.org/Connection.
AgButler’s full app is still in development. Once live, AgButler will allow farmers to fill any agricultural job need with eligible workers of all ages and skill sets. AgButler CEO Kevin Johanssen anticipates that the full version of its platform will be available late 2020.
Our modern economy has never seen anything as disruptive as COVID-19. It may be months before most things get back to normal, and some things may never be quite the same. Overcoming a challenge this massive will require lots of new ideas and innovative solutions.
The entire agriculture community will need to come together to continue providing food, fuel and fiber even as the pandemic rages on. Today’s high school and college students will remember this period for the rest of their lives. They might as well be making memories of extra time spent learning and working on the farm while helping their neighbors in need.
Eric Bohl, of Columbia, Missouri, is Director of Public Affairs and Advocacy for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.