American Farm Bureau conducted a survey recently. The results surprised a lot of people. The poll focused on participants in Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program. Of those surveyed, 87 percent were more optimistic about agriculture than they were five years ago. That 87 percent was the highest level recorded in the 19 years Farm Bureau has been conducting the survey.
With all due modesty, I can’t say I was surprised. And, no, I don’t have a secret source of information. What I have been fortunate to have is an inside seat to interaction with many young farm and ranch entrepreneurs.
Recently, MFA hosted the latest group of Agriculture Leaders of Tomorrow. That group will put a smile on the face of even the most cynical person. ALOT is not alone in reflecting the quality of today’s young people.
In my position at MFA, I see many of these young individuals in our customer base and in our growing crop of young managers, field staff and home office staff. I can tell you with certainty, in many cases, these young people are already leading.
As with any profession or industry, agriculture in the United States depends on an informed, invigorated young generation ready to take the lead in production.
Youthful exuberance should not be a challenge to those of us who are further advanced in years. Experience and the knowledge collected over the years make many farmers and MFA employees essential in their roles as leaders, advisors and teachers.
At MFA we put great weight on advancing the interests and education of the upcoming generation. MFA spends more than $600,000 each year in offering scholarships for those in rural areas. In fact, over the last 50 years, MFA has invested more than $10 million in scholarships for rural youth, far and away more than any other organization or business in our trade territory.
MFA also demonstrates leadership through general support, whether financial or otherwise, for FFA and 4-H or in conducting MFA’s own Young Cooperators Program. Many of today’s corporate or location board members are graduates of MFA’s program.
I can also tell you with certainty that today’s up and coming ag leaders are an enthusiastic lot who offer continuity, combined with ingenuity and an eager embrace of continuing the tradition and business of agriculture and improving it by adding a healthy dose of new technology.
For proof of that, look at participation and sales in MFA’s precision agriculture services. Each year, we sell millions of dollars of equipment and employ a great number of highly skilled young people who sell, install and help customers make precision technology pay great returns at the farm level.
Stop and think what this generation sees that underlies their optimism. They see a constantly improving agriculture with vibrant technologies that are as exciting as they are profitable.
They see significant reduction in the amounts of insecticides and herbicides, reductions brought about by farmers consistently adopting new technologies that are insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant.
They see continual reductions in erosion brought about increasing no-till acres. They know that nationally nearly nine out of 10 corn acres exist on natural rainfall while bushels continue to increase.
They watch as efficiency in crop and livestock production continues to keep U.S. farmers at the forefront of world agriculture—efficiency as measured by energy use, water use, soil loss, land use and carbon emission per bushel.
They know that in the United States 97 percent of all U.S. beef cattle farms are family farms.
They’ve heard for their entire lives that U.S. consumers spend a smaller percent of their disposable income for food consumed at home (5.7 percent) than any country in the world.
If they’ve been paying attention, they know that U.S. cattle ranchers have improved beef production per cow by 62 percent in the last 50 years. That improvement is directly tied to reduced resource use, lessening environmental impacts.
What underlies these stats? Genetics, nutrition and best management practices.
They’ve seen all this progress, and the good ones have internalized it. They know agriculture is still an honorable profession. They know that opportunity exists for those willing to put in the time, effort and intellect. And that, folks, should make all of us (even those my age) optimistic.
Bill Streeter is President and CEO of MFA Incorporated.