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Can you keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen IT?

Ongoing feedback from the searchWin2000 Career Center salary survey suggests that the agricultural industry worldwide is a profitable and challenging place for Windows professionals. Whether they are stationed in the Pacific Rim, Europe or the United States, their $60,000 average salary is among the survey's highest. Armed with MCP and MCSE certifications, between two and five years of Windows NT/2000 experience, and titles like NT administrator, IS manager and CTO, survey respondents report that their 60-hour work week is a full 10 hours over the survey average.

Major forces are at play worldwide to foster these trends. For one thing, information technology is becoming pivotal to farmers' ability to manage resources. Through the combination of biotechnology, precision farming, satellite imagery and computers, agribusiness today has an unprecedented collection of technology tools at its disposal to turn data into relevant information for critical decision-making.

But despite those forces, the agricultural sector, compared to other industries, has been slow to staff in-house IT departments, which may be one reason salaries are high and work weeks long. "Commonly what you'll see is the sales manager charged with finding outsourced talent," says Michael Bachner, a recruiter for Canadian-based Bestard Agricultural Placements. The industry has also been slow to adopt the Internet as a business solution, Bachner says. "Agribusiness is not B2B yet, but it's coming."

Nevertheless, whether they insource or outsource, agricultural companies will increasingly seek IT expertise to automate sales and accounting functions and to manipulate and interpret competitive data. "Look to the livestock feed industry and grain elevation sector to trigger the growth of IT jobs," Bachner predicts. He says those segments are being driven by demand for nutritional packages that require sophisticated coding and analysis and automated inventory systems, which will be key thrusts in grain elevation.

You can also expect increased demand for IT people with Windows OS skills among high profile multi-nationals that currently place many agricultural engineers fresh out of top schools like the University of California at Davis. "Our graduates will find work at companies like Monsanto and Archer Daniels & Midland," says UC Davis professor Dick Plant, noting that entry-level engineers are expected to be fluent in Windows NT/98/95, relating to the platform as an end user rather than a system administrator.

Consolidation represents another trend impacting IT employment in this $200 billion industry. Cargill, the largest grain buyer in the US, recently bought the second largest buyer, Continental Grain Co. Today, the merged company offers roughly 85,000 employees in 60 countries a hefty portfolio of IT career opportunities in its far-ranging operations as an international marketer, processor and distributor of agricultural, food, financial and industrial products and services. A few recently advertised Windows-related jobs include senior technical analyst with expert knowledge of Windows, UNIX and Oracle; storage networking analyst familiar with NT and NetWare file server; and client support for second and third tier development and support for PC hardware and MS-centered software. A critical attribute requested for this latter position is the ability to evaluate and plan Cargill's migration to Windows 2000 in their grain division.

Useful links

Precision @griculture

European Federation for Information Technology in Agriculture, Food and the Environment

About the Author:

Patricia Kutza is a technology writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She focuses on Computer and Internet topics.

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