top of page
Bryant Farms.jpg

Educators and Counselors Improving Their Strategic Plan to help students find a career path . . . in Agriculture

We have seen a large push in the past five years to widen the scope of career education from kindergarten all the way through college age students. Many area counselors at local high schools have expressed an interest in obtaining clearer data and information on LOCAL projections of job and career needs, accurate wage and benefit data and connections they can make to keep in touch with changes for communications to students. Clear and accurate information is necessary as districts work to develop more effective career development models to meet state guidelines and requirements.


The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity in partnership with the Michigan Center for Data and Analytics published a series of reports this past spring to support workforce development across the state. Each report focuses on an industry cluster. The agriculture industry reports can be found at A note about the report – For educators using pathway programs, “Natural Resources” is not part of this report. Forestry is, as it is considered a crop, but conservation specialists or officers, park rangers, or environmental specialists are not part of the careers included.

LEFT:  Many family farms, such as the Bryant Family Farm, supplement traditional farm income with retail products such as cut flowers or maple syrup products.

Michigan produces over 300 commodities making it the second most agriculturally diverse state in the U.S. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Michigan’s food and agriculture industries contribute an estimated $104.7 billion annually to the state economy. These facts should provide justification for placing the agriculture industry as a high priority career from an economic standpoint to promote with students. In addition to the corporation and family farms in The Great Lakes Bay Region, businesses such as Michigan Sugar, Star of the West Milling, D & W Fine Pack, ZFS Ithaca, Dow, and Corteva, are critical to maintaining and increasing the economic status of the region.


Educators can make effective use of the information from the report to help students in their career explorations. There are two clear groups of students to focus upon. Those on the family farm and those who are not, but show an aptitude for biology, the out-of-doors, and environmental or sustainability concerns.


The Agricultural cluster is largely made up of occupations with minimal to no education requirements such as farmworkers and laborers, food preparation workers, and industrial machinery mechanics. Each of these occupations has high projected annual openings and at most, require a high school diploma and on-the-job training. This can be important information for students who are challenged by the thought of post high school classroom style education or for those who have a financial need to go to work quickly upon graduation.


When the term, “agriculture”, is brought up most people think of the farmer. But the major subclusters in the report are:

  • Food processing (48% of individuals working in Agriculture)

  • Farming (30%)

  • Wholesale and retail sales (19.43%)

  • Input supplies to agriculture (1.4%)


Most of the work in the industry is not in the farm field or with equipment. Educators can speak with students about working in food processing as it includes occupations such as freight, stock and material movers, hand packers and packagers, shipping, receiving and inventory clerks. Michigan Sugar’s job postings reflect high paying positions for maintenance, mechanics, supervisors and managers. ZFS Ithaca’s postings are for Shipping and Receiving and Scale Operators.


A person does not have to own a farm to work in the industry, in fact, most do not. The report further breaks down wages and job potential for interested students.


While there are many opportunities for entry level occupations there are also opportunities for moving up a career ladder. Employees can become supervisors of all of the entry level positions, inspectors, testers or quality control experts, scientists and technologists, mechanics, and/or bookkeepers or accountants. There are also many opportunities in IT, HR, Lab Technicians, or engineering.


Wages at the statewide level, including the Agricultural cluster, have grown by more than 30 percent since 2011. Although the agriculture industry shows steady growth in wages, with that growth on par with statewide trends, the cluster as a whole still has average earnings much lower than that of the state. Very interesting to analyze and note is that the average wage for Food Processing subcluster, which makes up 48% of the workforce, is higher than the state average. The average is brought down by the Farming subcluster, 30% of the workforce in agriculture, who are those individuals that most of us think of when we think of agriculture; the people doing the planting, harvesting, running the equipment and machinery. So, if the income is considered low, why do they do it?


In Michigan, 95% of farms are family owned. Money is not their love language. Family, tradition, sustainability is what makes them stay in the business. These are the students in class who Xello has identified as having “Helper” personality types (Holland Code = Social). So, how can educators speak to these students looking to stay on the family farm, about improving their family’s financial situation?


Epicenter, Mt. Pleasant, recently ran an article, Multigenerational family farms in mid Michigan create a special legacy for everyone involved, that highlights the reasons individuals keep farming. (Sarah R. Adams-Solminski, May 24, 2024).


“Jessica Bryant has many happy memories of growing up on a farm. “I loved it,” she says. “I was involved as much as I could. It was just very cool working beside my parents and my sister. I would not have traded that lifestyle for anything.”


Now, Bryant is raising her children the same way at Bryant Family Farm in Shepherd—where it’s a true multigenerational effort. For example, Bryant’s husband, Ben, works to raise crops each year. “He farms with his dad,” she explains. “They have their own acres, but they share all their equipment and their time: they do it together.”


Aside from the field crops like soybeans, corn, and wheat, the Bryants grow hundreds of mums and raise chickens, beef cows, and fainting goats. In late winter each year, both sides of the Bryants’ families pitch in to make maple syrup.


Liz Henson also knows what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than herself. She says she got her start in her family’s Blanchard maple syrup business, Doodles Sugarbush, very early on. Liz is also a college student at Northwood University, studying entrepreneurship, a field she feels ready to tackle, given her unique upbringing.


“I get compliments all the time that I have such a strong work ethic,” she says. “And it's definitely from my parents and watching them and watching this business. When it came to choosing what college I wanted to go to, and what I wanted to study, it was literally crystal clear.” 


“This summer, I'm taking an internship for the business,” she adds. “And I'm taking on a stronger role to learn more about the background of the business, like how to handle all the books and ordering things and handling orders and things like that—instead of being just like a traditional employee that I've always been.”

All of the families in the Epicenter article participate in sales of their own products and services to supplement the traditional farm income. Educators can ask family farming students to look at business or finance certifications or degrees. In very high demand, and also with high wage for the industry, are mechanics, service technicians and CDL drivers. Having solid knowledge in IT can be very useful as so much of the equipment is computerized and drone operators as well. Having skill and certifications in these areas benefits not only the family farm but often these individuals are hired out to work on other farms as well. If the family farm income remains slightly below the state average, extra income from accounting, mechanics and other hired out work can keep the family farm life part of Michigan’s legacy.


Local colleges offer entry level training credentials, associate degree programs, and more advanced degree transfer options. Additional resources for students to explore the regional opportunities can be found by exploring offerings at higher education institutions such as:


Delta College:

Mid Michigan College:

bottom of page