To those outside the agriculture community, the idea of young people involved in agriculture sounds bizarre…like, do you even own overalls? Yes, I do, but that’s beside the point. The fact of the matter is, the age of the average farmer has risen to nearly 60 as of 2012. These wise and experienced old guys in the field now won’t be around forever to teach us the agricultural practices they learned over their many years in the profession. In addition, the number of new farmers decreased by 20 percent between 2007 and 2012.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m terrible at math; but even I know that this doesn’t add up. The age of the average farmer is increasing, and the number of new farmers is decreasing. This poses a big problem for the future of our industry. Who will be the next generation of agriculturalists? And better yet, who will be responsible for feeding a world population that has continued to increase exponentially? These are tough ones for sure. While I honestly can’t give you a good answer to how we’ll solve this (let’s not forget how bad I am at math), I know a stepping stone to getting there.
This last weekend, I attended Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers convention in Little Rock. This was my first time to go, but I always look for opportunities like these to get more involved in the Ag Community. I attended workshops on cattle market trends and the structure of Farm Bureau, learned about combating criticism to the ag industry, and got a chance to meet young agriculturalists from around the state. Something struck me though. Even among this group of agriculture enthusiasts, many didn’t actually plan on becoming farmers. Don’t get me wrong, the fact that agriculture provides an array of jobs for people with varied skill sets is great, especially since I’m an Agriculture Business, Public Relations major. So how can we increase the number of young people that become farmers? I’m not really sure that we can. The industry has dealt with this trend for some time now, as farms must become more productive to keep up with demand, and rely increasingly on a foreign-born ag labor force. For those of you that partake in the farming profession, I applaud you. You relentlessly work long hours to provide for a growing population that’s becoming increasingly skeptical of agricultural production. For those in the agriculture industry that don’t plan on farming, we certainly owe it to these farmers and our profession to work with the public on their behalf. I mean, they provide for us, so let’s use our skills to make this a two-way street. By getting the next generation involved in agriculture in any way we can, and making a meaningful connection between the general population and the farm, we’ll all be better off. One of the speakers at YF&R said something I found interesting. When talking about the consumer’s connection to agriculture, he said, “Somehow, we’ve missed a generation”. He’s right. There’s an entire generation that knows little to nothing about agricultural practices, but is able to voice an opinion on the matter. But it’s not too late. We have a lot of ground to make up, but let’s educate the current generation, and make sure we don’t miss the next. Let’s raise up a generation of agriculturalists that understand and appreciate the farmer, even if they don’t become one. With the whole world behind them, our fewer farmers can do more than ever thought possible. Until next time, keep doing what you love.