By Colleen Scherer, managing editor, AgProfessional

The agriculture industry is accustomed to seeing studies and news reports indicating how grueling, dangerous and difficult agricultural jobs are; so it's surprising when new information is released that supports agricultural workers and their careers.

A new study of health and satisfaction of people in various occupations showed people in the farming and forestry sector have some of the highest scores, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index (January-August 2010). The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is the first-ever daily assessment of U.S. residents' health and well-being. By interviewing at least 1,000 U.S. adults every day, the Well-Being Index provides real-time measurement and insights to improve health, increase productivity and lower healthcare costs.

The category of occupation that scored the highest was business owners with an index of 73.3 out of a possible 100. Farming and forestry was ranked fourth with an index of 69.2, outranking the occupations of sales, clerical, construction, installation, service, transportation and manufacturing. Ranking ahead of farming and forestry were professionals with 72.9 and manager/executives at 72.

What was the most revealing about the study was the percent of people who were satisfied with the job by occupation. Business owners had the highest percentage of people satisfied with their jobs at 94.2 percent. However, the farming and forestry industry had the second highest satisfaction percent with 90.7 percent satisfied with their jobs. That's a very high score for an occupation that is typically called out for how dangerous and hard it is.

I think these scores go to the heart of the people in this industry. People who are in this business love it. They wouldn't and probably couldn't do these jobs if they didn't love it. The mainstream media likes to show migrant farmers toiling in the sun, but that is not the full story of agriculture. No one disputes that the work is hard and the hours are long. However, the intrinsic reward farming and forestry workers receive from their jobs is second only to business owners. I suspect one reason for this is because many agriculture workers are owners, even though they aren't broken out as owners in the study.

Agriculture is global and local. It combines the spirit of working with the land and the grit of business and markets; it offers many workers the best of two worlds. Even the lowest level of agricultural workers talk about enjoying being outdoors, working with their hands and the satisfaction of growing food.

Mainstream agriculture, despite those who deem it to be horribly unbalanced and exploitative, feeds people in more than body — it feeds them in spirit. How many occupations can claim that privilege these days?