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Views from Austin

Road Warrior writer David Kohl shares some observations from his annual stop in Austin, Texas.

Recently, I made my annual stop in Austin, Texas at The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP). Even after more than twenty-five years of speaking at this program, there are still new observations and lessons offered. In particular for this year, there were some interesting emerging trends. First, members of the millennial generation (18 to 34 years of age) made up approximately 30 percent of this year’s group. In fact, many of that 30 percent were sons or daughters of previous attendees. Next, participants are normally either farm owners, managers, or both. This year, many of the owners and managers were women. Interestingly enough, a few in the group attended TEPAP several years before but felt they would benefit from a return, given the economic environment. The group came from over 30 states, five Canadian provinces and even Australia. 

The program welcomed back the well-renowned farm consultant, Dick Wittman. After a survey of all participants, Dick presented his financial and management profile. The median gross farm revenue for the group present was $3.5 million, with the median assets around $10 million, and total liabilities of approximately $2.5 million. From these results, Dick made an interesting observation: the millennials were lacking in management practices and core competencies.  Indeed, this observation was confirmed after our week of networking and discussions, but we did not know why. Was this the lack of management succession where the senior generation teaches needed skills?  Perhaps it was the recent economic super cycle which increased complacency, especially at the management level, for many in the agriculture sector.

Another interesting observation from TEPAP was the return of outside professionals to agriculture. Examples included the civil engineer that returns to farming, or the veteran with no farm background selling organic feed and beef, and the English major that attempts to master the management dynamics of agriculture. These individuals have all had varied life experiences outside of agriculture that afford them a heightened perspective from which to manage the business.  Thinking about it on the plane, I surmised that perhaps this management deficiency of the younger people at TEPAP is simply the lack of exposure and experience to life events and issues in financial management that are needed develop these competencies. Perhaps this is an issue to be resolved with time.   

In short, the changing dynamics of agriculture dictate a higher level of management acumen and life experience.  This is an extremely positive thing for agriculture. However, it is also an element to which the industry must be aware as we ready the younger generation to lead agriculture into the future.  As always, TEPAP was an exceptional educational event for all those involved. 

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