The Power of a Job in Town

In late February, the Wall Street Journal published an interesting piece that hit close to the hearts of those of us in farm country. The article, “To Stay on the Land, American Farmers Add Extra Jobs,” introduced us to several farmers who have taken a second or third jobs in town so they can sustain their family farm operations.

On average, 82% of U.S. farm household income is expected to come from off-farm work this year, revealed the article. 

John Phipps, an Illinois farmer and columnist for Top Producer and Farm Journal, delved into this concept of off-farm employment earlier this spring in Top Producer. During low-profit years for farmers, off-farm income can improve the odds of farm survival.

In “Broadband Can't Save Us, Off-Farm Jobs Can,” Phipps wrote:

Dormant skills and degrees are assets, and with the huge improvement in tools like job-search websites, finding part-time or seasonal employment is not just feasible, but more lucrative than you might expect. As economists point out, labor immobility is a huge constraint on growing our economy. People don’t move to jobs like we used to. That alone suggests a significant return for those who will.

In tough times, I have seen neighbors embrace realism and families manage with a father only home on weekends, or a few days a month. Farmers often forget that is just how life is for sales people, truckers and military families. For that matter, it’s similar to how many of our ancestors immigrated. It can be done, and done well.

Real-World Proof

Meet Maggie Holub. This impressive young farmer from Scribner, Neb., is a shining example of how an off-farm job can complement and fuel a farming passion

Holub farms 700 acres of corn and soybeans and has a full-time job in Omaha (an hour away) as a credit analyst for Farm Credit Services of America. She scrutinizes farmers’ balance sheets, cash-flow statements and financial trends during the day, and then makes those same production and management decisions for her own acres by night.

Holub’s on-the-job training has been invaluable for her own operation. 

“My job in town is how I diversify my operation,” she explains. “The size and scope of my operation would not survive without the extra income source, insurance and retirement benefits. I’m able to apply on-the-job lessons to make my own operation viable.”

Plus, her job in town lets her gain priceless insights into how farmers can succeed.

“The fun thing about farming is we all raise No. 2 yellow corn and soybeans,” she says. “But each operation does it so differently.”

A full-time job with a long commute forced Holub to be strategic with her time. She takes off a week at planting and three weeks at harvest. The rest of her field work is done in the evenings and weekends and she hires custom work when necessary. 

“I constantly have to weigh costs versus time,” she says. “I pride myself for all I get done. I’ll go for a run at 5 a.m. or haul corn and then come to the office. It’s crazy how much you can get done in one day.”

Read more about Holub: All In A Day's Work