February 02, 2023

Rural Issues: Make a career in ag work for you

When my long career in ag communications — specifically in farm broadcasting — comes to an end, I hope to be remembered as someone who helped bring talented young journalists into the fold. I cannot think of a better legacy than seeing those I have helped along the way thrive in the career field I love.

Sadly, as is the case in the field of ag education, there are fewer and fewer young men and women willing to make the sacrifices early in their careers that can lead to a rewarding role in a few short years.

Why would anyone become a high school ag teacher when they can go to work for an agribusiness company making at least twice as much money, with better benefits and fewer evening and weekend demands on your time?

Who would want to be a farm broadcaster at a local radio station making a third of what you could make working for an agribusiness, sometimes answering the phone and doing other “odd jobs” at the station?

A young friend contemplating her career choice explained why she would not be applying for any of the entry-level farm broadcasting positions available at this time: “It’s not like it was when you were starting out. We can’t afford to take a job right out of college that doesn’t pay well. We have bills to pay. We have student loans. Everything is more expensive now. I am not going to move away from my hometown, and I am certainly not going to sell advertising.”

Why is it different for her than it was for me? I had student loans and bills to pay. I chose local radio over teaching high school ag 37 years ago. At the time, salaries for entry-level ag teachers and a “jack of all trades” at a radio station were not that far apart.

I lived in a couple of pretty sketchy apartments, drove an old car and lived paycheck to paycheck. A lot of men in the field were not keen on young women becoming farm broadcasters. Barriers to entry ran deeper than just poor compensation and geography.

But it was worth it!

Despite the challenges, those were some of the best years of my life. I am not “knocking” my young friend, and looking back on that conversation, I should have asked her why she believes it is different for her than it was for me.

Not to be a show-off, but I did have a role in helping to break that glass ceiling for women in farm broadcasting.

There are opportunities out there that can change your life for the better if you are willing to move away from your hometown for a couple of years, hold off on buying that new car and sharpen the pencil where your entertainment budget is concerned.

Perhaps it’s not the right career path for my friend, but she has the skill set and the passion and love for agriculture. I wish she would invest a year or two trying it out before choosing a more lucrative career field.

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.