Tied to a national youth summit in Washington D.C. this month, YI Advisors and Global Prairie released a new report that found that “the next generation of America’s farmers and food producers are ready to tackle challenges with new thinking, skills sets, collaboration and early adoption of new technologies,” according to a news release issued during the event.
The report, titled “FarmNext: Giving Voice to the Next Generation of Food Producers,” was based on nationwide focus groups conducted at land-grant colleges and universities from July to September 2015. Millennials entering farming and agribusiness were asked to share their perspectives on the trends shaping the future of the agriculture industry.
The report explored the following key areas and findings:
Public perceptions of farming: Young farmers feel the media and the public fundamentally misunderstand the challenges and realities of farming. Young farmers feel portrayed as “Jekyll and Hyde,” either representing an unsophisticated or less than modern approach to farming, or corrupt corporate minions poisoning and abusing the land — neither of which are true.
Technology and innovation: Young farmers are early adopters of the latest technologies and they are transforming how the business of agriculture is done. These technologies reduce costs, increase yields, and are more environmentally sustainable.
Economics: Despite the challenges, young farmers and agriculture students are very optimistic about farming and agriculture as a career. Young farmers are also inherently entrepreneurial and are looking for opportunities to grow their ideas. Aspiring farmers from non-agricultural backgrounds face steep challenges around accessing and securing the capital to get on and work the land.
Workforce and education: Students expressed frustration over “disciplinary siloing” and wish that colleges and universities would offer more cross-departmental courses, since modern farmers need to skills in the sciences, technologies, business, marketing and beyond. More high quality internships with hands-on experience are also needed.
“We should be optimistic about today’s young farmers and agriculture students, and their ability to tackle future problems,” said Tom Allison, author of the FarmNext report and deputy director of policy and research for Young Invincibles, in the news release. “While agriculture is still a challenging sector, young farmers are thinking about the industry differently, want to push the boundaries, and are bringing their unique generational experiences to the work.”
Young Invincibles, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit, and Global Prairie, a digital media and marketing firm, conducted the study, with a culminating summit in Washington, D.C. Sponsors included DuPont Pioneer, CHS Inc. and the American Seed Trade Association.
Clarissa Unger, director of partnerships with YI Advisors, says FarmNext is an organization that was created to learn more about young people studying or entering agriculture and to help elevate their voices and visions of where the industry is headed.
“When we first started the initiative, we had a theory - that there seems to be a deepening polarization around the topics of food and food production – organic vs. conventional, rural vs. urban, and so on, but that young farmers can bring a new perspective to grappling with this,” Unger says. “Our thinking was who better to bridge the gap and bring new perspective to these complex topics than the very demographic that stands at the intersection of these issues: young farmers?”
Unger says the industry can use the report to gain some key insights into how young farmers are approaching the work and how young adults view product development and the business of farming.
“For example, the report finds that Millennial farmers are interested in collaborating, working internationally and adopting new technologies,” she says. “The report also touches on how employers can engage young people who are considering going into farming, especially by offering high quality internships and apprenticeships that teach hands-on skills.”
To learn more about the initiative, and to download a copy of the report, please visit www.farmnextgeneration.org.