Note: Jeremy Fair (also known as @TennCattleGuy on Twitter) just finished a summer internship with the Animal Agriculture Alliance. In this post, he shares why it is vital that young people get involved in production agriculture. He also blogs at The Farmer’s Perspective.
Growing up, I remember riding in the passenger seat of my grandfather’s truck as we drove across our farm, checking on the cattle. During our drives, our conversations might vary from talk of an upcoming cattle show to the little league baseball game that I had that night, but one thing I remember distinctly was my grandfather talking about how someday the farm would be passed on to me. I wanted to be a farmer from an early age. Now that I am entering my final year of college, I still have that passion for production agriculture and desire to be a farmer, but I know that it isn’t realistic. There is just no way that I can support and raise a family solely off the income of our very small farm, which is why I am pursing off-farm employment in addition to returning to the family operation.
I believe that there are a lot of young people that are in the same position as me- they want to go back to the farm, but they just don’t see how. Admittedly, this blog post is a bit of a strange one because I want to pose a question that I really don’t have an answer to, but I hope it generates some good discussion.
What can be done to encourage young people to choose production agriculture as a career, and remain there?
1. I believe that we must make production agriculture attractive. The image of a middle aged man in a seed corn hat standing beside a pickup in a Midwest corn field doesn’t exactly create the same stirring feelings as a fireman rescuing a woman from a burning building or a doctor performing a lifesaving transplant surgery. So by some means we as agriculturists have to make production agriculture an attractive, viable occupation for young people to consider.
2. We must discover a way to improve the profitability of the farmer. I think it is important for us to remember and educate our fellow producers on all the opportunities that exist in agriculture. Young producers should be encouraged to take advantage of niche markets such as direct to consumer sells or agritourism options that can increase their profitability. These could also include grass fed or all natural beef. As conventional producers we should never “bash” another sector of our industry or what other producers are doing to try to improve their profitability, and vice versa. Agriculture is a big industry and there is room for all of us.
3. Farm Succession. Wow, those are probably the most feared two words across the heartland of this country. The world that we live in today is very different from when our parents joined the family operation 30 or 40 years ago. Today, it is vital that we plan for the passing on of our family farms. Over 97 percent of the farms in the US today are family owned. Many state extension services offer farm succession workshops and planning sessions and I would encourage having the ENTIRE family attend these within your state. You might also consider employing the help of a farm succession expert. A few weeks ago I attend the New Century Farmer Conference in Iowa. One of our presenters was Dr. Ron Hansen from the University of Nebraska. Dr. Hansen is an expert in farm succession and works with families planning the transition of the family farm. He emphasized that if you are involved in a family farming operation planning for the transition of that farm to new generations is a must.
4. What about those young producers that are already out there? Don’t make the mistake thinking that you can just farm and that will be enough, because it isn’t anymore. Today young producers must network with other farmers, whether it’s through programs such as Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers, commodity organizations, or local producer groups. It is also important to cultivate a relationship with your legislators and elected officials so that they understand how the issues they vote on will impact agriculture. Young farmers must also tell their story. You have to educate the consumer about agriculture.
In a day and age, where only 2 percent of the population feeds 98 percent and when most of the farmers in our country are within 10 to 15 years of retiring, it is extremely vital that we encourage younger generations to look to production agriculture as a career option.
I’m sure there are countless other farm kids who have the same dreams as me- to be part of an honest noble profession, to raise a family with the same morals and values that they enjoyed growing up, to be a farmer, but many just don’t see how. As agriculturists, it is our opportunity and obligation to show these young people that there are opportunities for them in agriculture, that they can live their agrarian dreams, that with planning and hard work they can be a farmer.