I missed out on part of the annual ritual at home of weaning calves and wrapping up corn harvest this weekend. I was in the Yellowstone area, where I had the pleasure of keynoting the 2013 Young Agricultural Leadership Conference in Anaconda, MT. More than 160 young people from Montana gathered for a weekend filled with networking, educational forums and discussion groups.
I find it refreshing to go to conferences and visit with my peer group. After all, there aren’t many of us millennials – folks born from the early 1980s to early 2000s – trying to make a go of it in production agriculture these days. What with the capital investment, the rarity of land for sale or rent, all the long hours and hard work, and the lure of a potentially much easier career path doing something else, a kid would have to be crazy to get into the livestock business, right?
Call me crazy, but that’s exactly my dream, and it was exciting to see so many like-minded individuals in the same room. These are young people who not only face the challenges of production agriculture head on, but love every minute of it and understand the passion, dedication and drive it takes to be successful in the cattle business.
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One thing I noted from interacting with these individuals is that no two stories are the same. Some of these young people are working the same land that great-grandpa, grandpa, and dad operated during their time. Others are first-generation ranchers networking with aging area ranchers and hoping to get an opportunity down the road. Some are focused primarily on crops, while others are in the business of raising beef. Some are college students trying to carve out their niche in the industry; others are married and starting new families -- the next genertion they hope will follow them into the industry. Some work full-time jobs off the ranch. Others are involved in sideline businesses to help make a go of it, as I am with my freelance writing.
Whatever the path the individual has chosen, the common thread is that they all wear many hats and are willing to make sacrifices early on to build something for the future. Of course, previous generations have done this before, but what makes millenials in ranching truly unique is our willingness to look outside our own pasture gates and connect with the outside world.
My speech at the conference focused on just that -- using social media as an effective tool to promote agriculture. Never has it been more important than right now to reach out to our consumers and educate the influencers in our communities. These are the folks who will ultimately dictate, by their grocery purchases and their voting behavior, how their food will be produced and what agriculture will look like in the future. So I found it both inspiring and refreshing to meet with a group of folks who are devoting themselves to this challenge by adding “agvocacy” to their already long list of things to do.
The average age of the U.S. rancher today is well into the mid 50s, and my generation has so much to learn from these seasoned veterans. But those seasoned vets can profit by talking with young folks, too, by absorbing some of their enthusiasm for this wonderful business and lifestyle. Whichever group you are a part of, I encourage you to make a special effort to nurture a relationship with someone on the other side of the spectrum. I guarantee that you will learn something new and be inspired by the conversations you have.
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