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Opinion: Is A Lack Of Opportunity Or Commitment Keeping Young People Out of Ag?

young people involved in beef production
Young people say they want to be ranchers and farmers, but do they really have the commitment?

Among the many helpful articles in BEEF magazine and on the BEEF Daily and BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly newsletters, there are a few that really get my juices flowing. Your recent post, "Beef Industry Wrestles With Issue Of Attracting New Blood," came at a pivotal point in time. After I read it, a great employee, who has worked wonders around here, announced he had been offered a job selling insurance.

I asked what his new compensation would be worth when the things offered, like free insurance, paid holidays, paid vacation and profit sharing were figured on an annual basis. He said $45,000. Now that's pretty darned close to what he is earning now with his base wage and performance bonuses. Oh yeah, and free beef, too.

Now I deal with more employees than most farms my size. That's because years ago I made a conscious decision to minimize capital outlay for new, big machinery; fancy facilities and hired services. Instead, we’ve invested in human capital. We have intentionally created more employment in our operation than we really needed to. One of the intentional products of this farm is human beings, trained and experienced in farming and ranching. We don't have a very sexy operation, but the one we have is profitable, growing, and creating jobs.

I guess I just have this kooky notion that more people living and working in rural America is better than fewer people living and working in rural America.

But finding good employees is just as hard for me as for anyone, I suppose.

When I read articles about how hard it is to get started farming and ranching, I am left to wonder. Why are so few of these would-be farm and ranch owners willing to settle for the next best thing: gainful employment on a professional, for-profit farm or ranch like mine? If they want real responsibility and real control over real assets, they can have that here.


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Perhaps I am a bit bitter right now, after my top hand's announcement. But of late, I have begun to wonder just how deep is the desire to farm or ranch in the hearts of all the folks supposedly chomping at the bit for a chance to get started in their own operation? How hard are they really willing to work? What great sacrifices are they really willing to make? How much poverty, uncertainty, and, indeed, scorn of their peers are they really willing to risk to make their "dreams" come true?

I conclude that that level of commitment is often what is most lacking.

I have hired numerous young people who desire a career in agriculture, but only a few have shown any desire to improve themselves beyond their schooling, through independent study and exercise apart from their daily work responsibilities. They don't go to Extension meetings or trade shows. They don't read books. They don't subscribe to trade journals like BEEF. They don't study the work of great agricultural minds like Alan Savory, Alan Nation, Jim Gerrish, Burke Teichert, Walt Davis, Burt Smith, Temple Grandin or Bud Williams. Who has heard of Louis Bromfield, or from his works, drawn inspiration to dream big dreams and find the courage to face the challenges of agriculture?

I will leave with these questions to you: Just how deep is the level of commitment of those who say they want to start a farm or ranch business? Is it their dream to live on a farm or ranch, or is it their dream TO BE a farmer or rancher? What have they done and what are they doing currently to prepare themselves to run a real business? How much is just dreaming?


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