What Do Millennials Bring to the Ag Industry?

Despite negative perception, millennials bring much to the table, including prioritizing conservation and sustainability.
Photo credit: Brian McCord

I have admitted that I am a lobbyist to you, the reader. 

What could be worse? Admitting that I am a millennial, perhaps? Please don’t stop reading. I promise I am not writing this from my “safe space.”

Every generation thinks the next oncoming generation will be the downfall of the world. At least that is what I have observed. I am sure when the Traditionalists saw the Baby Boomers turning into “hippies” and changing social culture, or when the Baby Boomers saw Gen X introduce computers and recession into their economy, there were surely some questions raised.

The same goes today for us millennials. According to the news, we are just self-centered, lazy, phone crazy consumers that want to be handed everything – as long as everyone benefits globally. Achievable? Unlikely. Broad-stroke stereotype? Definitely.

Under this narrative, in a recent training on generational influence in the work place, my fellow Farm Bureau staff and I were reluctant to even raise our hands when our own birth year was called aloud. So it got me thinking (since I am a millennial with all the time in the world while playing on my phone), what does agriculture look like in the future when millennials are at the helm?

Don’t overlook the positives

Let me share some positive sides to the research on my generation with you that you don’t often hear. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, “Millennials are achievers, who find power in serving their neighbors through civic duty, social cause, and are members of a global community. They are the most educated generation, extremely technology savvy; optimistic, with a dose of realism. Millennials have street smarts, promote diversity and are loyal to their peers.”

This narrative gives me hope. As the world continues to grow and the farmable land continues to shrink to urban sprawl, it will be up to millennials to face the challenge of feeding more with less. This is not in the distant future either, as multi-generational family farms, first time farming millennials, and even Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers are rising to this call today.

Conservation and sustainability-focused

Conservation, sustainability, land and resource stewardship (or any other buzzword referring to the longevity of our planet) is something that is consistent across generations for the rural-living, farming and ranching population of this country. It is simple economics: we need the land, and without it remaining fertile, we cease.

The wide-scope discussions on agriculture in the national media revolve around climate change, biosecurity and food trends. The discussions on the farm revolve more around things like how to yield more with less water, or how to keep an animal more comfortable to produce more. Trends, niche markets and buying local are great things that Farm Bureau can support. Overall, however, we as consumers have to match our conversations about global issues with real life solutions on the family farm.

Enter the dreaded millennial. This inherent desire to serve our neighbor with what we do for a living, balanced with a social or civil service and our understanding and use of technology, makes for a Farm Bureau member that gives me hope.

Combine that with the traditions and sacrifice of their grandfather, the hardknocks and survival tactics of their Baby Boomer father or mother, and the future independence of their Generation Z sons and daughters, and I think you have a brighter future in agriculture than ever before.

What does the future of ag look like?

The question that remains for me is not will agriculture rise to the challenge, nor is it will the planet have the resources to sustain us. Rather, I believe the biggest generational hurdle we are facing is whether or not we will over-regulate and under-pay our farmers to a point where we suffocate an otherwise thriving industry. 

The United States of America rose to prominence largely in part to its ability to feed, clothe and shelter itself while profiting off of the surplus that it could supply to the world. Founding fathers, presidents and philosophers have said this, not just me. Statistics show that we continue to produce a surplus in many commodities in the U.S. today. With more free trade, less burdensome regulation and the technologies of the next generation, my millennial optimism kicks into high gear for what could be in this state, the country and the world. Agriculture is ready for the challenge. Are you? |

FROM THE AUTHOR It has been a pleasure to share my thoughts with you through Mississippi Farm Country as an employee of Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. What started with an internship at MFBF years ago has now led me to a new role tackling farm issues as the Commodity Coordinator and National Affairs Coordinator with Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. Thanks for reading Notes from the Field and thanks for being a Farm Bureau member. God bless.

-Andy Brown

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