One of my recent trips was to South Carolina’s Clemson University to lecture at the 32nd annual Southeastern Agricultural Lender School. This is one of the few lending schools in the country that combines bankers, Farm Credit, Farm Service Agency, academics and various agribusinesses at the same school. This is unique and extremely valuable because it brings together a broad perspective of viewpoints and solutions. This broad perspective will be vital in working through the economic challenges and opportunities over the next few years.
In an evening open forum, one participant asked for comment from the lecturers on what he perceives as a sense of entitlement or self-centeredness from the young generation. He further asked for ideas on how to correct this issue. I suggest this is a matter of perspective.
The age range of those referred to by the forum participant is 14 to 34 years of age. This encompasses a large number of the millennial generation who are 18 to 34 years of age. Although I am retired, I remain active academically and continue to be in communication with a wide sector of individuals and industries across the United States and North America. From my perspective, it is difficult to categorize the entire millennial generation in one, broad manner. Specifically, I may concur that approximately one-quarter to one-third of the millennial generation could represent the assertion made by the forum participant. However, it is important to note there is a significant portion of the young generation that understands technology and demonstrates excellent work ethics.
This eager, hard-working group wants to take on challenges and should be mentored by the older generation. They will seek opportunities to make a difference in business, employment and project assignments. This group will also expect feedback as a result of growing up with technology.
As an educator, I suggest exposing the younger generation to more opportunities to understand human behavior and relations in diverse settings. Additional exposure to realistic work experience and responsibilities is also helpful. Similar to the Clemson Agricultural Lender School, a broad perspective is vital to success. Colleges and universities, especially in agriculture, economics and animal and crop sciences focus too much on technical components. The ability to understand and work with other individuals and groups, in a wide range of activities will be a differentiator for this group of future leaders.
My top five suggestions for millennial farmers:
- Attend at least two internships: One internship outside the familiar, home region and one internship outside the United States.
- Learning and progress take time. Be prepared to practice patience.
- Attend three to five educational venues annually to maintain skill base.
- Surround yourself with a good set of mentors that will share and exchange information and ideas.
- Periodically, turn off the constant stream of information in order to listen and reflect in the silence.
It may be tempting to want to change those that think or act differently from what you consider normal. However, a new or different perspective can be invaluable. The millennial generation of producers will set new trends, use more advanced technology and take the agriculture industry into the future. Now is the time to mentor these young leaders and give them the tools they need to succeed professionally and individually.