Chris Dible, 17, walks past a giant red and black tractor. It’s the tractor Dible helped his dad bargain for when he was 13. Standing here, he can’t help but think about his family.
“I just you know, I see it and it’s like we’ve worked for this,” Dible says. “My grandpa worked very hard, worked his whole life for it. This is the fruits of our labor, it needs to stay in the family as long as it can because we worked very hard for it and we worked very hard to maintain it.”
Dible is a fourth-generation farmer on Dible Brothers’ Farm near Sunbury, Ohio. He’s not sure he’ll be a farmer in the future, but he is dedicated to staying in the industry he loves.
There’s a lot of opportunity in this growing field. Agriculture is Ohio’s top industry, with over 540,000 jobs in this state. But it’s also facing a skills gap, with 20,000 open jobs and no one to fill them.
Jeanne Gogolski is the lead researcher for Grow Next Gen, an educational resource connecting students to careers in the agriculture industry. She says that agriculture is a bigger business than many think.
“So it's a, you know, $1 billion business here in the state of Ohio,” Gogolski says. “And when you start thinking about jobs, I don't think people fully understand that when you say agriculture you're not talking about being a farmer necessarily.”
Gogolski urges teachers throughout the state to incorporate agriculture in their everyday teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math – or STEM.
The idea that agriculture is more than just farming is also preached by Jeffrey Stimmell. He teaches Agriculture Science and works as part of a partnership with Big Walnut High School and the Delaware Area Career Center.
Stimmell is one of Chris Dible’s instructors and offers classes ranging from Agriculture Business to Food Science. He says agriculture has always incorporated important STEM lessons.
“So I think that Ag was STEM before STEM was STEM. That’s kind of one of the things I always like to talk about,” Stimmell says. “So if you think about science, technology, engineering, math, like students are doing all four of those things.”
Stimmell not only introduces students to the industry, he also engages students who grew up understanding farming, food sciences, or other aspects of agriculture. Dible struggled in science class, until Stimmell connected the lessons directly to what he observed, which Dible says was a game-changer.
“My most favorite subject is of course Stimmell’s classes, but really the sciences,” Dible says. “It just relates to what I do and really I just get so much out of it and it’s so hands on.”
Excelling in the classroom is plowing the way for Dible’s success in a farm-related industry – even if his family sells the farm. He is looking into certificate programs with John Deere or Case tractors after graduating from Big Walnut High School. Both are two-year programs that teach him how to become a service technician.
Dible welcomes the idea of forgoing a four-year degree.
“I’m probably not gonna go to a four year university,” Dible says. “Good for me. You know, I can get the certifications I need from ATI in two years. Why spend extra cash to go for two extra years – it will just be wasted money.”
The average annual wage for a service technician is over $42,000 a year, and these jobs aren’t going anywhere. A spokesman from John Deere says that technician roles are vital to the company’s success and only increasing across the country. John Deere estimates local dealers will need to add about 4,000 technicians over the next five years.
Dible is the perfect candidate, and says he couldn’t see himself doing anything else.
“Yeah, it’s hard work, but also this is much better than sitting in a cubicle all day or whatever else, you know, an office job,” he says. “I’d much rather be out here in nature, doing what I love”
Agriculture jobs are open in manufacturing, engineering, sales, food science, animal genetics, and that’s just to name a few.
Corn and soy aren’t the only things growing out here in farm country.