Paid time-off for farmers is one of the intriguing ideas that caught the attention of our group during the recent Kansas Farm Bureau Casten Fellows international travel experience to the Baltics. One of the young farmers we met shared that the Replacement Farmers program provides subsidized, qualified workers to help during illness or time away on vacation.

This first-generation farmer said she uses the Replacement Farmers for education and expertise because of the knowledge and experience required of the fill-in workers.

That clear recognition of the mastery needed to succeed in farming was a lightbulb moment for our group. We realized that every farmer we met with in the Baltics has made a conscious decision with their career and business ownership.

There is no multi-generational pressure because farm ownership is still in the first generation. People choosing farming careers take their work seriously; they seek out education and training opportunities to improve themselves because everyone there remembers how many people failed at farming after the region was liberated from Soviet occupation. Farming is a respected profession.

Can a farmer be considered a professional? The status of being a professional probably seems like a silly question, but it’s worth pondering.

The Oxford Languages dictionary definition of professional focuses on a person with “prolonged training or a formal qualification.”

So many people in our world think farmers are people who lack intelligence and ambition. They definitely have no idea how many are college educated with degrees in everything from engineering and finance to chemistry and genetics. I always enjoy enlightening people who have never met a farmer and have visions of farmers being what they were portrayed as on television shows of the 1950s.

I think most modern farmers could pass the litmus test of training and qualification. However, in direct conflict with the idea of farmers being professionals is the Merriam Webster definition specifically states, “an occupation that is not mechanical or agricultural.” That definition aligns with more medieval views that separate the learned professions (law, medicine and divinity) from other trades or farm laborers.

However, if we are going to believe historical definitions we need to include ones that add the idea of professionals providing services for the benefit of the client or the public. Farmers definitely do that.

As Americans, we enjoy the most abundant, safest and cheapest food supply in the world. That has allowed the public to detach itself from the realities of what it takes to ensure the security of this foundational need. The supply chain disruptions of the past 18 months are the first time in the lives of many generations’ that we have had even the slightest moments of scarcity.

If you are one of the people just noticing farmers, I hope you see the way they have worked to improve their practices to ensure food safety; updated equipment and inputs to increase efficiency keeping costs low; and innovated and experimented to increase yields to keep up with global demand. They continue to plant their crops and care for animals whether prices are high or low. They wear dozens of hats and are continually learning to stay on top of their ever-changing industry.

Maybe you have never thought of farmers as professionals and think they do not strictly fit into the dictionary definitions. But, I challenge you to consider the complex nature of modern agricultural systems, their benefit to the public and the required skills formed through prolonged training it takes to produce our food. In the big picture, I believe farmers have earned the designation of professional.