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Next up: Generation Z

The next generation is ready to take on the farming world.

December 29, 2022

4 Min Read
three farmers walking across plowed field towards the setting sun
YOUNG AND FARMING: The next cohort of young farmers, Generation Z, is more interested in farming and agriculture as a career option. But they also need support and encouragement to pursue their farming dreams.StockSeller_ukr/Getty Images

Millennial farmers are the ones getting most of the press these days, as they are among the younger ones on the playing field right now, but time is moving fast and Generation Z is now on deck.  

Gen Z — also known by some as the iGeneration or post-millennials — is the demographic cohort following the millennials. Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z is now coming of age and starting to enter the workforce. One of the notable trends among this group is a growing interest in farming and agriculture.

First, you have your farm kids — those who grew up in ag. According to a study called “Farmers of Tomorrow: Generation Z’s Future in Agriculture” that appeared in a May 2021 article on Ag Daily, “89% of Gen Z respondents are currently active in their home farm operations if they have one. However, only 54% indicated they intended on taking over from their parents someday. But that didn’t mean they wanted to abandon agriculture — many of them indicated they had a desire to obtain agriculture-related degrees and stay active in the field.

“For anyone in the agriculture community, anecdotal experience likely tells that this isn’t a surprise. Farm succession isn’t what it once was; it’s a complicated process and sometimes involves millions of dollars’ worth of land and assets. And, with growing trends in the ag tech, food tech and biotech sectors, there are increasing opportunities for younger generations to stay heavily involved in agriculture without the high risk, hard labor and opportunity costs of staying at the home farm.”

Of those who will take over from their grandparents and parents, “they desire to explore more opportunities and adopt a diversified approach to their work,” K.S. Havyas, co-founder and CEO of Beegle Agritech, said in the article.

“Combining multiple activities on the farm and ranch, from tourism to hospitality, eco-wellness activities to food processing, marketing to hydroponics, beekeeping to mushroom cultivation, and more, these generations think of using resources efficiently and will adopt diversified activities so as to generate additional income from multiple sources. This is the core character that distinguishes this generation from others.”

Or to quote another popular source, the hit TV show “Yellowstone”: “The future of that ranch depends on its evolution, and if it doesn’t evolve with society, it will be devoured by society.” 

A bit stark, but there you go. 

So, we have the farm kids who will return to the farm, the farm kids who will enter the agricultural service industry, and let’s not forget the newest cohort: non-farming Gen Z kids.

There are several reasons why these folks in Gen Z are drawn to farming. One is a desire to lead a more sustainable and environmentally conscious lifestyle. Farming offers an opportunity to work with the land and contribute to the production of healthy, natural food, which aligns with Gen Z's desire to live in a more sustainable and ecofriendly way.

Another reason is a desire to be self-sufficient and take control of their own lives. Farming offers an opportunity to work for oneself and be in control of one's own livelihood. It also allows for a sense of connection to the land and a sense of community with fellow farmers.

There are also practical considerations. The demand for locally grown food is on the rise, and this trend is expected to continue in coming years. This presents an opportunity for young farmers to tap into a growing market and make a viable living through farming.

In addition, the cost of living in many cities is becoming increasingly unaffordable, and young people are seeking out alternative ways of living that are more affordable and allow them to live closer to nature. Farming can offer an alternative to the high cost of living in the city, and allow young people to live in a more affordable and rural setting.

But there are many challenges and barriers to entry. One of the main challenges is lack of access to land and capital. Many young people do not have the resources to buy or lease land, and even if they do, the cost of starting a farm can be prohibitively expensive. 

There are many organizations and initiatives that are working to support and encourage young people to pursue careers in farming. The National Young Farmers Coalition, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, USDA’s Beginning Farmers & Ranchers Program and others provide resources and programs to support young farmers through training, internships, apprenticeships and mentorships. 

Gen Zers are interested in farming and agriculture as a career option. Let’s support and encourage young people to pursue their farming dreams.

Watson-Hampton farms with her family on their fourth-generation family farm in Brandywine, Md.

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