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Serving: IN
Sara Creech standing in front of fence
VETERANS IN AG: Sara Creech, a military veteran, began Blue Yonder Organic Farms with no former experience. An Indiana AgVets program hopes to introduce other military veterans to ag careers.

Veterans gain opportunity to learn about ag careers

The Indiana AgVets Certification and Internship Program could open doors for military veterans in agriculture.

If there’s a challenge facing many farm operations today, it’s finding qualified labor. In some areas, anecdotal stories indicate farmers offering $18 per hour just to compete. Even then, they’re not always successful.

One farmer reports he hired someone, and the person “quit” before he ever came to work! It’s tough for someone who worked for a farmer for $1 per hour in 1970 to believe you can’t get workers for $18 per hour. And I was using a pitchfork and riding open-platform tractors. When my farmer “boss” finally upped my pay to $1.25 per hour, I thought I was in “tall cotton.”

Ed Sheldon, part of the Purdue University ag safety program, hopes an effort kicking off this spring will introduce a new group of people to potential careers in agriculture, including working on farms, and hopefully increase the labor pool.  

Indiana AgVets is offering the Indiana AgVets Certification and Internship Program specifically to train U.S. military veterans in Indiana and surrounding states about potential careers in agriculture. I’m not a veteran, so I would not have qualified for the program if it had existed back in 1970. But there are many veterans today, and some aren’t aware of potential ag careers.

Grant program

“We believe that if veterans looking for a career can experience what agriculture jobs are like, many might choose to work in agriculture,” says Bill Field, Purdue Extension farm safety specialist. “I’ve met many of these folks, and several just haven’t been exposed to agriculture. This program is designed to do that.”

The program is open to U.S. military veterans and current National Guard or Reserve members of any military branch, Sheldon says. Because Indiana AgVets obtained a grant, specialized training is free to veterans. 

The cornerstone of the training is an eight-week internship either on a farm or in an ag business. Veterans will earn $15 per hour during the internship.

“We already have veterans enrolled for our first class,” Field says. “Some will be working on private farms; some will work at Purdue ag centers, others at machinery dealerships and other types of businesses.”

Sheldon and Steve Swaim, both part of Purdue’s AgrAbility efforts, will serve as training coaches for veterans during their internship.

The program was made possible through a three-year grant obtained by Hoosier Uplands Economic Development Corporation in cooperation with Purdue’s AgrAbility Project. It’s supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Sheldon and Field are encouraged by the interest expressed so far. Several people from various walks of life volunteered to serve on a steering committee established to oversee the project.

Learn more about the program at indianaagvets.info, or call 812-849-4447.

Sara Creech, owner of Blue Yonder Organic Farm near North Salem, Ind., is proof that veterans with no previous knowledge of agriculture can find a home working with plants and animals, Field says.

Creech, a military veteran, not only raises and sells everything from eggs to strawberries, she also is now active in agriculture circles in her local community. She was one of the first female supervisors on the Hendricks County Soil and Water Conservation District board.

This unique program underway through Indiana AgVets won’t solve agriculture’s labor problem. But it may add a few more people to the pool of employees. It’s certainly a step in the right direction.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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