Summer. For many kids, this is supposed to be the fun time of year – no school, vacations, play all day – but not if you’re a farm kid! This year we had a late wheat and hay harvest, followed by the late crop plantings. And then it was fair season! 4-H projects were finalized and the kids finished preparing their show animals to win big in the arena. Our farm kids are busy this time of year, but most wouldn’t have it any other way.
As I’ve attend the fairs and gone on farm visits this year, the question that keeps popping up is, how will this industry look in the next 10 years? Some older farmers are worried about the expectations of this next generation. Others are concerned with increasing costs of entering the industry. Still others wonder whether the small farmers will make it or if big ag will take over.
While no simple answers can be found, it seems that the general consensus is that patience and ingenuity will be, and in some ways always has been, the key to continued success for the industry. Some young farmers will need to start from scratch by working a job in town and working on their 40 acres in the evenings and on weekends. Others will be blessed with family already in the business who can help them get started through providing land, equipment and/or advice, or they might be taken into the family business with the intent to turn it over to them in the future. Some older farmers with no heirs interested in taking over the farm might take in that city kid with farming aspirations and groom him/her to be the replacement manger and eventual owner. Lending institutions and government agencies have started programs specifically geared towards the younger generation, with the intention to keep the industry growing.
Ingenuity has led many farmers, large and small, to make adjustments to their operations to ensure their future. Some have changed their production practices, in part or whole, to a more “natural” or organic process such as grass fed beef or organic heirloom tomatoes. Cattle farmers have added poultry facilities to their farms to both produce additional income and to furnish their own fertilizer. Farmers with old, supposedly single use poultry facilities have turned those into dog kennels, shrimp farms and hydroponic growing spaces. Niche opportunities are growing fast as farmers are taking advantage of the “eat local” markets with CSAs (community supported agriculture), truck farms, farmers markets and local bee yards.
No one knows what the future holds. However, we have endless opportunities to expand into agriculture, especially operationally. The skills our kids are learning through 4-H and FFA will help them in the future as they start their own operations. Patience is gained as projects are perfected. Ingenuity is applied as projects are chosen, diversified and made personal. Monetary experience is earned through project loans, budgets, repayment strategies and growth plans. Working, and playing, in all types of agriculture only allows to better educate ourselves as we continue to grow this industry.