Agriculture Internships – tips to maximize the opportunities

Growing up on a diversified cattle ranch, I had the great opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the cattle business from an early age. I had a deep dive into a large-scale cow-calf and stocker business; our family vacations were traveling to Amarillo, Texas to see our cattle in the feedlots. Despite having such an opportunity, I still found great value in agriculture internships during college.

Each summer during college, I took the opportunity of agriculture internships to diversify, learn and grow. These were some of the best decisions of my education. After a decade of working with youth and young professionals in agriculture, I still believe in the power of good internships to start your career. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your time in internships to find your own career path.

agriculture internships tips
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Broaden Your Experience

While I may have had the unique opportunity to grow up on a larger, diversified cattle operation, that experience was not representative of the entire industry. Just as my neighbors managed their business differently, no two operations across the country do things the same way.

Reach outside your comfort zone to broaden your experience. Even if your internship is the same type of business you grew up around, travel to a different part of the country to see how things are different.

I traveled to work on cattle operations in the Southeast, High Plains, and the Rocky Mountains. While each operation was a sector I had worked in before, each business did things differently and that experience was invaluable in learning how to adapt, grow, and change. In an industry where tradition can often dictate how we do things, that diversity of experience can be valuable to your future employer.

agriculture internships ranching

My Agriculture Internships

To this day, I have never received a job or internship from a cold application. Some of the best agriculture internships and jobs are never listed. While it may be intimidating, reach out to business owners or managers you’ve met along the way to ask about opportunities; some may exist while others can be created.

My first internship was on the ranch where I grew up but in a different role and setting. I moved into a ranch house and took over management of the cow-calf herd while the herdsman was able to take the summer to focus on other projects. While still technically at home, this gave me the opportunity to encounter new challenges and responsibilities.

My second internship resulted from work with cattle feeders in Texas and previous visits to their feedyards. I reached out and was able to secure a summer internship working with every position in a feedyard and spending time with nutrition, marketing, and veterinary consultants. While I had grown up exposed to the feedyard business, the time spent in such an internship was invaluable in gaining a deeper look at the sector of the industry.

The third internship I participated in was a connection with other ranchers at industry meetings. I was able to travel to Wyoming to a ranch that had established an internship program. While I had grown up on a cow-calf operation, doing so in the Rocky Mountains was a completely different experience. I had my first exposure to irrigation, public lands, and more intensive grazing management on rangelands. Working on horseback in such a vast and arid environment gave me a much greater appreciation for stewardship of our resources.

agriculture internship cattle feedyard feedlot

Paid Internships

This one is debated across conversations and there’s probably a solid argument either way. However, from my experience, an internship program worth the experience should financially and fairly compensate you for your time. While my internships were far from making me rich, they did cover living expenses and housing. As a professional, I’ve advocated for interns in the companies I’ve been involved in to be compensated fairly for the work being done.

Many agriculture internships, especially in production sectors, involve hard physical labor. The hands-on experience is invaluable when working with livestock or crops, but many employers take advantage of “interns” to gain cheap temporary labor. Don’t let someone take advantage of you. Your work and labor are valuable.

Maybe an internship you want isn’t easy to find, but there may be temporary work positions available with employers that will help you learn on the job. My work on university research farms was a good example of this. I was expected to work as an employee, but managers and co-workers were willing to take the time to answer my questions and help me learn on the job.

Don’t expect to get rich, but asking for reasonable living expenses in return for your contributions is a valid request.

agriculture internships networking

Finding Agriculture Internships

Maybe you’re afraid of finding the right fit or not being able to have the contacts to find your agriculture internships. Don’t fret. There are many opportunities and resources out there to help. Here are a few ways to build your network and find your next step.

  • Career Fairs – Your college or university creats great opportunities to meet employers who can offer advice and opportunities to grow, even if you don’t think the jobs fits you now. The best way to improve your interviewing skills is to practice. Do it.
  • Industry Events – Invest the time and money to attend local, state, and national industry events. These meetings and conventions are filled with industry leaders. Meet them. Learn from them. Introduce yourself to them.
  • Digital Announcements – more and more often, I see internship opportunities announced on social media or mentioned in email newsletters, podcasts or other publications by businesses and managers. Don’t restrict your search to traditional listing boards and LinkedIn profiles.

Whichever path you take to building your network to find agriculture internships, invest the effort to make a good impression. Introduce yourself to employers and industry leaders with a firm handshake, look them in the eye, and repeat their name after they give it to you. If they were a speaker at a recent event, show interest by recalling a soundbite they shared during the presentation or interview.

Agriculture internships are great opportunities to build a foundation for your career and discover new opportunities you didn’t even know existed. Take advantage of the experience and you never know what you may find.

What have you gained from your internship experiences?

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