Older and wiser works for farmers
Ag At Large
A lot of decisions being made these days by baby boomers, Gen-Xers and millenials influence life down on the farm. Farmers, even of the same age groups, tend to disagree with many of them.
Look at it this way, from the viewpoint of farm families. Many government agencies, both state and federal, perhaps even county and city, are occupied by Gen-Xers and millenials, with some boomers ready to retire. Generally speaking, they are believed to have received environmentalist-rich educations, where pesticides as farm tools are feared, frowned on and defamed.
When it comes to private property rights, which most farmers are prepared to champion to the death, the younger generationals’ viewpoint tends to discount them and, according to popular farmer opinion, threatens to trample on them. That leads to environmentally friendly regulations that sometimes trump property rights.
When a financial question arises the younger millennials seem to take what for them is the high road of sharing wealth among the entire population of the country, perhaps even the whole world. Farmers, bathed in profit-oriented free enterprise, come into conflict, causing the youthful to brand them as selfish, narrow, even greedy.
Socially the generationals’ “anything goes” free will behavior levels frustrate farm families who tend to cling to more traditional, rule-obeying life practices that work just as well for them off or on the farm. Farm youngsters who learn to raise animals or complete other projects by rigid 4-H Club standards develop a discipline that guides and trains them adequately even after they leave home.
Of course, a fair number of farm-raised kids don’t leave home, something that is becoming more common with millennials, as well. The difference is that kids returning to the farm after college help with the workload, take part in a life they believe in, expecting to inherit that precious farm land and let it nourish their lives as it has their parents’ lives, perhaps even the lives of their grandparents or earlier ancestors.
On a less philosophical notes recent study suggests that the demographic shift created by boomers, Gen-Xers and millennials will drive significant changes in the food industry. The study was commissioned by Jeffries, a global investment banking group, and AlixPartners, a global business advisory firm.
Authors of the study believe the contrasts between the millennials and aging baby boomers will require food producers and retailers to be more nimble, conduct more product development, leaner supply chains and more effective use of marketing initiatives.
Results of the study showed that millennials are more price sensitive than baby boomers. A majority of them are willing to pay more for natural or organic products. They also expect convenience, have less brand loyalty than boomers and are more receptive to shopping for food at locations other than traditional grocery stores.
Boomers, Gen-Xers and millennials, even those raised in farm surroundings, have moved and are still moving away from a farming way of life. As they do the realities of farming and agricultural production are remote and perhaps strange. Farm life and living is even more remote for those who have completely urban backgrounds.
It’s time for a massive reality check. Farm families are doing what they can by inviting urban dwellers to their farm sites, luring them with fruit, vegetable and gift stands, and meeting them at farmers markets in their own locales.
Universities that offer agricultural curriculums provide a buffer and example for students in other disciplines on campus. Agricultural students often take part in campus politics, involving themselves in debates of some of the issues stated above, accepting positions of leadership.
It’s slow work for the farm community — on top of the basic chores faced every day of keeping the farm in tact and profitable. But farmers possess an important quality, one that seems to escape many of the recent generationals — patience.
Don Curlee is an agriculture consultant in the Valley. His column appears each Monday in The Recorder.