PASCO -- The average age of a Washington farmer is 57.
Food magically appears at the supermarket.
Farm work is dirty and hard.
The last two sentences are popular -- but false -- myths about farming, Alex McGregor told a class of agriculture students at Columbia Basin College on Thursday.
But those two myths have a lot to do with why the first sentence is true, he said.
McGregor, president of the large Colfax-based fertilizer and farm supply company that bears his name, was the last of 14 guest lecturers this year who have visited a CBC class called Ag Business Concepts. His presentation was equal parts pep talk, recruitment pitch and management training.
Young people need to realize there are many attractive careers to be had in agriculture, McGregor said. And the CBC students -- who clearly have found agriculture attractive enough to study it -- can help with that, he said.
"I hope you will help share that message," McGregor said.
McGregor is a prime example of what's possible in agriculture. His ancestors came to the Palouse to herd sheep in the late 1800s. His father started a farm supply store, which eventually grew into a fertilizer manufacturing business.
Today, The McGregor Co. also is involved in trucking, farm equipment manufacturing, seed development, cattle breed stock and even software.
Alex McGregor's son, Ian, the vice president of the company, has developed a computer application that combines information from satellites and aerial photos to help farmers make planting and fertilizing decisions.
While such technical skills aren't quite mandatory yet in the ag profession, they're increasingly important.
"Collegiate training is a huge plus," McGregor said. "It's harder to succeed without it."
That's because farming doesn't mean sitting on a tractor all day anymore, or at least it doesn't have to, said Kerrin Molton, who heads CBC's ag program.
"Agriculture can be engineering, research or marketing," she said. "It's a science-based, high tech industry."
The classes reflect that. Depending on which path students choose, they take accounting, economics, chemistry or animal science classes as they prepare for the ag degrees.
About 40 students are in the ag program right now, Molton said. That's a lot better than a few years ago, when the program almost folded.
But agriculture needs to draw more students.
"There's definitely a shortage in the industry," Molton said.
There's some hope, said McGregor, who has noticed more young people at grower meetings. But he predicts the demand for ag products -- and with it the demand for skilled ag workers -- only will increase.
That demand can be met only if young people realize what the profession has to offer. It also helps to remember the cultural heritage of the Columbia Plateau, he said.
"There's an urgent need to not lose track of our agricultural roots," McGregor said.
And the jobs are there. "We're out recruiting all the time," he said.