Making A Career in Agriculture
If you’ve ever read a field-scouting report for the Southwest Missouri region from the University of Missouri-Extension, chances are Jill Scheidt, agronomy specialist for Barton, Dade, Jasper, Newton and McDonald counties, was the specialist scouring the landscape in search of potential problems from insects or disease that impact crops and pastures.
Growing up on her family’s beef cattle, corn and soybean operation in the Dade/Cedar County area, Jill always knew she wanted a career in agriculture.
“I knew I wanted to live on a farm and be in the country when I got older, so that’s why I wanted an agriculture degree,” she said. “I really didn’t know what I would do if I got a degree in animal science, so I went with agronomy. I also did an internship in Kansas for Servi Tech as a crop consultant, where I found that I really liked the row crop side of things.”
Jill, who has been with the University of Missouri-Extension for about five years, received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy from Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo. While serving an internship, Jill said she realized she was on the right career path.
“I did an internship with University of Missouri-Extension here in Baton County and that’s how I decided I wanted to be an Extension specialist,” she recalled. “Before I came to University of Missouri-Extension, I worked for NECO Seed Company as a crop consultant in the Dade/Barton County area. I did that for a year and when University of Missouri-Extension had a full-time opening, I was able to get the job as a full-time agronomy specialist.”
In addition to offering assistance to producers, Jill’s job with Extension varies like the seasons.
“In the summer months, I have a crop scouting program,” she said. “I check crops every week, typically checking wheat, corn and soybeans. I’m probably going to check milo this summer too, not because we have a lot of milo producers, but that sugar cane aphid is going to be a huge pest and I think that is something we will need to alert farmers to. In May and June, we were worried about armyworms, so I checked fescue for that for my report. Basically, from March through October, I scout every week. When I’m not doing that, I teach several different types of programs to farmers, kind of like adult education farming.”
She also has also recorded several how-to videos, which can be found on the MUExtension417’s YouTube page, on scouting fields for pests.
“I was on a site visit and told a farmer how to look for a pest and realized that he interpreted my instructions differently than I meant,” Jill told OFN. “I wanted to make sure farmers had a visual, as well as a written description.”
Since agriculture is constantly evolving, Jill said it is sometimes a challenge keeping with the changes.
“Weather conditions aren’t even the same from year to year or from season to season,” she said. “You have to try and keep up with what the next problem or what the next concern of the farmer is.
“Since the farmers call with so many different questions on different types of crops or pasture questions, it’s actually an opportunity to learn something from every question or concern I get.”
While many people like or enjoy their careers, Jill said she gets a feeling of satisfaction with her position with University of Missouri-Extension, especially when she is able to help a farmer solve an issue or problem.
“When you go out and talk to a farmer, they try to get to know you and you try to get to know them, and you gain a personal relationship with them,” Jill explained. “Then when you go out to help them with a problem, or go to help someone you don’t see too often, you can really tell that they really appreciate it and how much they appreciate your help.”
Jill and her husband, Jack, also have a small farm in Cedar County, Mo., near the community of Arcola, Mo., just about two miles from where she grew up, where they raise milo and soybeans. They also raise bottle calves and occasional a few hogs.
The couple has a 1-year-old son, Jackson, and will have their second child in October.
“I was lucky in that I never had to move far from home,” Jill said. “Hopefully, one day, we can enlarge our farm, and we will have kids who want to stay on the farm too.”
Jill and Jack help her parents, Keith and Marilyn Hankins, with their farming operation. Jill credits her parents for her love of agriculture.
“I can remember getting in the truck and going to the farms every weekend, and we’d go check all of the cows,” she said. “During planting and harvesting, I can remember taking meals out to whomever is in what tractor in whatever field. When I got old enough to drive the tractor and things, that’s what I did in the summers.”
A generation ago, agriculture was a predominately male-dominated industry, but times have changed.
“I think as long as you prove yourself in that you know what you’re doing, you aren’t going to have a problem,” Jill said. “Everyone has been very warm and receptive to me… What’s nice about the University of Missouri-Extension job, when it’s nice outside, you can usually find someone who will let you go out on their farm and look around. I really like being able to work with farmers and help them. You can always tell when they appreciate your help.”
Jill sees more and more opportunities for women who choose agriculture.
“When I was in college, there really didn’t seem like there were that many girls, but now there are a lot of girls getting ag degrees,” Jill said. “If they want to do it and work hard, then I don’t think they are going to have any problems getting a career in agriculture.”