As published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, April 5, 2021
Nowhere in New Mexico are there greater opportunities for growth and expansion of the Agriculture Industry than Doña Ana County.
Agriculture already accounts for 4,830 jobs in the county and generates 12% of New Mexico’s $3 billion in agriculture revenues. The county is home to 2,100 farms occupying 660,000 acres of land and is the most diverse agricultural area in the state, ranking first in crop value. It is the top producer in the world for pecans, grows 30% of all US chile, and is second in the state for vegetable production.
The county also has unequalled strengths – from the educational institutions that call the county home to the workforce and economic development programs ready to identify talent who will embrace an industry so vital to the core need of any society: food.
And yet, this industry faces great workforce challenges at opposite ends of the “food” cycle: planting, growing, and harvesting on one end, and capturing the value-added opportunities of production, distribution, and commercial sale on the other. Without a harvest, there is nothing for New Mexico to process, sell, or build support industries around, and therefore, no economic impact. At the same time, we’re missing out on economic impact by allowing New Mexico-grown produce and livestock to be processed and commercialized out of state.
Innovation, “big thinking,” and mechanization are transforming the industry and are poised to grow the value-added side of the industry: carrying New Mexico True products from the ground to the grocery store, restaurant, school, senior center and wherever consumers are found.
Growing people for the wealth of careers in the Agriculture Industry should be a top priority for our students and those who’ve been displaced by COVID and are ready to launch new careers in an industry that may be new to them, building on the valuable skills they already have that employers in this industry desperately need.
In order to gain a clear understanding of the holistic talent needs of these employers, The Bridge of Southern New Mexico convened representatives of the industry to understand their workforce needs and challenges.
What we found is that there are jobs available in this industry across the skills spectrum. From those with minimal experience to college-degree holders, employers in this industry are hungry for local talent.
Jobs in the industry span Transportation and Logistics, Marketing, Manufacturing, Crop Maintenance/Harvest, and Business Management and Administration. There are also robust opportunities for entrepreneurs in the industry to add to the value-added side of the supply chain.
Average wages fall between $25,000 and $60,000 depending upon the position, and half of the employers surveyed offer family-sustaining benefits, including profit sharing and bonuses.
Agriculture is a high-stakes industry, and the caliber of talent should have some to considerable preparation. New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte, who participated on the Roundtable, said there’s a lack of awareness of the technology skills required for this industry.
“We’ve not done a good job of highlighting the advancements in the adoption of technology,” said Secretary Witte. “A farmer in Lubbock took video of what takes place inside the cabin of a tractor, with GPS and computer skills, and advertised for a computer operator. He had 30 applicants.”
Roundtable members shared their most requested credentials and degrees, as well as jobs for those without certificates or diplomas:
- Agricultural Business/Economics
- Food Science
Trade or Certificate-Level Credentials:
- Forklift Driving
- Truck Driving (CDL)
Top Jobs for Those with High School Diploma or GED:
- Equipment Operator
Top Jobs for Those without Credentials:
- Equipment Operator
To learn more becoming a part of this very literally growing industry, visit: NewMexicoTrueTalent.org, click on the Career Pathways Tab, and then Agriculture.