By Kaitlyn Riley
Because I’m Alice, people always ask me about agricultural facts, my personal connection to the industry, or my adventures in agriculture. Most recently, one of the hardest questions I’ve had to answer is, “What’s next?” Our 72nd Alice in Dairyland top candidates are getting ready for the Alice in Dairyland finals this May, and I too have to prepare for a new chapter in my life.
While I visit schools this spring, memories of my youth quickly come back to me. I can remember being asked what I wanted to be when I grew up while sitting on a rug in elementary school. We had just finished reading a book about firemen, so naturally, all of the kids in the classroom excitedly said they were going to become firefighters. Of course, as our class grew older, our perspectives of the world changed. There were career opportunities we did not even know existed back when reading about heroic firefighters.
I was raised on one of the 96% of Wisconsin dairy farms that are family-owned, and our gravel driveway showcased several jobs in Wisconsin agriculture. Our veterinarian would visit at least once a month for herd health. The milkman came every other day to haul our milk to one of Wisconsin’s nearly 150 cheese manufacturing plants. The local feed store delivered rations for our livestock and discussed animal nutritional needs.
1 in 9 jobs
It is not surprising to see so many people with different careers pull into one driveway. About one in nine jobs in Wisconsin is related to agriculture. Each of those jobs supports an additional 1.5 jobs elsewhere in the state. Of the almost 413,500 agricultural jobs in the state of Wisconsin, on-farm production contributes 153,900, and processing contributes 259,600.
The diversity of Wisconsin’s agriculture industry is its greatest strength. As farmers and processors continue to become more productive, the diversity of jobs in Wisconsin agriculture will also continue to grow. The industry needs engineers, software developers, technicians and more who can adapt to and help create more effective ways of producing food, fuel and fiber for the world. Agriculture careers support many industries that include farm production, agriculture management and marketing, food science, urban planning, and energy. Wisconsin colleges are rising to the challenge by offering new, innovative programs. For instance, Wisconsin Technical Colleges offer more than 50 programs in agriculture-related fields.
With less than 2% of the nation actively involved in agriculture, the number of youth who see career opportunities pull into their driveway is dwindling. However, the demand for agricultural products is rising as the world’s population continues to grow. Agriculture is looking for the next generation to come forward and be part of the almost endless number of careers available.
As members of the agriculture community, it is our responsibility to showcase the opportunities in agriculture for those who have not witnessed the industry firsthand. If they are not inspired by reading a book about farmers in elementary school, perhaps they will be inspired by visiting agribusinesses across the state, seeing the technology in action, and meeting the industry leaders who move Wisconsin agriculture forward.
Personally, I am motivated by those I have met during this amazing journey as Alice in Dairyland, and I am excited to discover what will be next in the future of Wisconsin agriculture. While I may not currently know what’s next, I invite you to see who will be next to step into the role of Alice in Dairyland. The finals will be held May 9-11 in Green County. You can find more information at aliceindairyland.com!
Riley is the 71st Alice in Dairyland.