The son of a Hollywood movie producer leaves the West Coast for the East Coast where he graduates from two Ivy League universities, works for a Fortune 500 company and ends up in rural Ohio where he finds his dream job in agriculture.
Sound like a “fish out of water” storyline thrown out during a brainstorming session for a new TV series? Not exactly — this is the real life experience of Eric Bernstein, a Wyandot County Farm Bureau and Young Ag Professionals member who is vice president of operations for Kalmbach Feeds in Upper Sandusky, an Ohio Farm Bureau group member.
“One of the things I realized early in my career that I cared the most about was working in a business that makes something physical, tangible and essential. That it’s not just whizbang technology. When I was introduced to Kalmbach Feeds and learned how it was a critical part of the food chain, it appealed to me on a deep level,” said Bernstein, who joined the company in 2017 and lives in Delaware County with his wife, Breana, and daughter, Alexandra.
This is exactly the type of story that Dan Durheim, Nationwide’s associate vice president of sponsor relations, likes to hear and one that he’s hoping to hear more of over the next few years. As a member of the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation board, Durheim is aware of the critical role agriculture plays in the everyday life of Americans. He and other foundation board members have been working to dispel misperceptions and show how agriculture is an economic driver. A major initiative has been the foundation’s ExploreAg program, which started in 2018 and is funded by the Fisher Fund for Lifelong Learning. The program brings high school students into labs, fields and factories for hands-on learning about the wide array of careers available in food and agriculture.
The proof is in the data
During a 2019 meeting, the foundation board puzzled over how to capitalize on the fact that agriculture is the backbone of Ohio’s economy, accounting for one in eight jobs, and that some of those jobs are high paying, highly skilled and require a college education. They were concerned by projections of a continued shortage of workers in the agricultural industry. Ohio agriculture was hiring but qualified workers weren’t showing up. That’s when the board decided it needed more data about Ohio’s agribusiness sector. The foundation board hired Bill LaFayette, owner of the economics consulting firm Regionomics, to do a deep dive in identifying which agribusiness industries are economic drivers and what the workforce needs are for these industries.
“We wanted to start with the facts,” Durheim said. “There’s a lot of perceptions out there that hinder someone from seeking a career in agriculture. We needed to figure out how to help people learn there are great opportunities out there and break down those walls of perception. We wanted to start with good data and get to the truth.”
The data showed Ohio’s agribusiness industries are not only thriving and growing but pay well. The average Ohio wage for agribusiness jobs is 4% higher than those with comparable jobs throughout the economy. And the 10-year need for workers in agribusiness occupations — outside of retail and restaurants — is more than 90,000 and covers a wide array of specialties, including management, business and finance, information technology, engineering, life sciences, law, real estate, healthcare, sales and marketing, maintenance, production and transportation. Educational requirements range from a high school diploma to a doctorate degree.
“The average wage is 4% higher and not only is agriculture good for the community because it keeps us fed, our cars fueled and our energy going but it pays more than comparable jobs,” Durheim said. “I work for Nationwide and not everybody thinks of Nationwide as an agricultural employer but we have a lot of great opportunities in agriculture, too. We hire food scientists, agronomists, bankers and financial people and their bend is agriculture.”
Agribusiness is hiring
In the study, LaFayette identified at least 30 agribusiness industries as economic drivers in Ohio, meaning they offer stable employment and career growth potential. They included agricultural industries, food manufacturing, wood products, food machinery manufacturing, zoos, botanical gardens and nature parks.
“Agribusiness is so much bigger than most people think,” LaFayette said. “Tens of thousands of openings are predicted over the next 10 years, and we want to steer folks to those industries that are growing faster than average and offer more opportunities for advancement. Doing so will help us keep (bright minds) in Ohio.”
Now that the foundation board has this data, the next step is to continue finding ways to attract the next generation of agriculture producers, scientists and community leaders who are passionate about the role agriculture plays in Ohioans’ daily needs.
“The foundation has positioned itself as a thought leader in terms of careers in agriculture, and it’s critical we keep showcasing the potential for agricultural careers and keep supporting innovative programming that gives young people a better understanding that a career in agriculture might be their dream job,” said Kelly Burns, executive director of Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation.
For Bernstein, working at Kalmbach made him realize that not only is agriculture an essential industry, but it matches up with his key values.
“Agriculture at its core goes back to the beginning of civilization because it’s what allows us to eat. There’s a clear sense of mission and purpose and pride,” he said. “Farm Bureau plays a critical role in all of this because through its policies it brings together people in the agricultural community and invests in building vibrant communities that support agriculture. None of this happens by accident – Farm Bureau is a big part in making this all happen.”
OHIO FARM BUREAU FOUNDATION PRIORITIES
Training the next generation of agricultural producers, scientists and business and community leaders is a key priority of Ohio Farm Bureau. Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation supports this effort in three ways:
The ExploreAg program is a partnership between the foundation and Ohio State University Extension and offers four one-week or one-day experiences for high school students free of charge. The students are immersed in hands-on learning about the wide array of careers in agriculture. The camps are held on the campuses of Ohio State University and Central State University.
Youth Pathways Grant for Careers in Agriculture
The foundation awards up to $100,000 annually to organizations that demonstrate innovative ways of introducing/exposing students to careers in agriculture.
For the 2020-21 academic year, the foundation awarded $57,000 in scholarships to students in recognition of their academic effort, community engagement and career interests that link agriculture to community service, education or scientific research.
Scholarships make impact on students pursuing agricultural careers
The Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation annually recognizes students for their academic effort, community engagement and leadership experience through the administration of its scholarship program.
Scholarship applications are available now and eligible students are encouraged to apply. Research shows that there is a need for more than 90,000 workers in agribusiness occupations over the next 10 years, and the foundation is proud to attract and support the next generation of leaders to our industry, such as Olivia Blay of Portage County.
Blay was the 2020 recipient of four Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation scholarships including the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association scholarship, the Cindy Hollingshead scholarship, the Jack Fisher scholarship and the Bruce and Carlene Patterson scholarship.
Following is a Q & A with Olivia Blay:
Q: What is your career goal after graduating from college?
A: My No. 1 career goal after college is to use my business background at a large agricultural company so that I can bring my passion and profession together. Working for a company that is focused on supporting the agricultural community is my goal because I am so thankful for my background and want to pay it forward to the industry while using my accounting degree. It is my goal to be happy in my professional career while making an impact on something that is meaningful.
Q: How do you see your major helping you to achieve your career goals?
A: I see my major helping me achieve my career goals because it is providing me a solid foundation of business and is giving me a numbers background which I can then apply to a number of different paths throughout my life. Business is incredibly important in our society so having this major will allow me to make an impact no matter where my profession takes me. I can use what I am learning in school and combine it with an agricultural company so that I can do what I enjoy while using my degree.
Q: Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
A: In five years, I see myself working at a multinational company in the agricultural industry that has many growth opportunities. I envision myself learning and growing a ton during my first five years with the company, and then at that point I will have a goal set to be promoted to a higher-level role. I see myself trying new things and looking for opportunities to see how I can make a difference. There are so many things to learn and after five years in the professional world, I hope to be a leader and mentor.