According to a 2007 USDA statistic, the average age of farmers continues to rise, with the majority of principal farm operators between the ages of 45 and 62. A certain amount of Pa Kettle know-how is fine, but agriculture needs young people. The vast food production system, from those working the land to those moving commodities around the world, needs the spark that comes from the energy and ideas of the next generation.
I loved growing up on a Midwest family farm, but I didn’t have the mechanical skills or the endless patience required to stick with it. Dad knew it too. As he has joked since, “With price fluctuations, long hours, and our old equipment, the authorities would have charged me with child abuse if I would have talked you into farming.”
Four decades and three continents later, I’ve ended up back in the world of agriculture. Although I’ve exchanged a pitchfork for a keyboard, and the nearest I get to a tractor is when I ride in the cab with my brother on the old home place, I’ve been able to find out about the many organizations and universities that offer opportunities for young people wanting to get into the world of agriculture. A quick search on the Internet yields scores of opportunities: universities offer special courses, companies provide intern programs, and organizations sponsor scholarships.
Three young interns are an integral part of our publishing operation at the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, and their skills and enthusiasm make the rest of us optimistic about the future of agriculture. Allison Ladd works as an administrative assistant with a focus on the membership operations. A junior at Iowa State University, she earned a scholarship to attend the AFA (Agriculture Future of America) conference. As she said, “The AFA Leadership Conference was a great way to network with industry professionals and ag students from around the country.”
Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, administrative assistant with a focus on media, stays in tune with the modes of communication for agriculture. The ISU senior has been appointed to the Agricultural Relations Council, and as she says, “My goal is to be a high-ranking official within the USDA helping develop ag policy.”
Our third ISU intern, Shannon Snider, will soon finish her Masters degree in accounting. She claims the nearest she has been to farming is the produce aisle at the local Hy-Vee, but we have a feeling she will eventually end up using her talents in some type of ag venture. The ag-science world needs expert number crunchers too.
I may have scraped the manure off my boots back when I left for college, but the old adage is true. You really “can’t take the farm off the boy – or girl.” I hope many young people have a chance to get their hands – and maybe even their boots – dirty as they dig into the network of opportunities in the food production system. A hungry world is counting on them. Dan Gogerty