When it comes to Millennials, most people are interested in learning about how they shop, or what they eat, watch or wear. But, as I started thinking about Millennials, I found myself more interested in Millennial farmers, and how they might be doing things differently from previous generations. What do they think about the industry and more specifically, what do they think about their future in the agriculture industry and the future of our agricultural communities? Do they see a difference in previous generations of farmers versus their generation?
To get answers, I decided to turn to my younger brother (Patrick Holland) and a close family friend (Mitchell Curtis), both Millennials working in agriculture, to get their perspectives. Here are three key takeaways that I think our industry knows but we need to continue to address.
- As smaller communities continue to struggle to keep and attract members, we have to figure out how to not lose the connection from farm to products even more than what we already have. We are getting further and further away from the farm every generation.
- While there is a struggle to keep good, young people in agriculture, there are many like Patrick and Mitchell that care so much about the industry and will continue to push it forward. We have to continue to help tell the story of why and how technology can be good for farming and not necessarily scary.
- I truly believe that no matter the generation, those in the agriculture industry love what they do and care about it more than people in other professions. Millenials are going to try farming with their own twist by utilizing new technologies. Millennial farmers are no different than Millennial consumers – they want to be on the cutting edge of technology, pave their own way, and not do something just because it is the way it’s always been done.
Patrick Holland went to college to study Ag business at the University of Illinois and is now a seed corn advisor for Beck’s Hybrids.
Mitchell Curtis is a fourth generation farmer on the same land, but says his family has always been involved in farming for many generations on land in the area.
Why did you choose a career in agriculture? Why do you farm?
Patrick Holland (PH) – A lot of it is because where I grew up, I was immersed in it. Everything is ag. Ag is a part of everything in the world and it is a fun industry because people don’t realize how much ag does for them on a daily basis. I grew up going to fairs and watching cattle shows, and continued with 4-H and FFA.
Mitchell Curtis (MC) – The first key for me was to never leave farming. The tradition and the relationship with my grandfather played a large role. I always talk about working with someone who remembers bringing home the first tractor ever built. It really struck me and I held close because of the family ties. And, I really love the outdoors, the land and always pushing myself.
Patrick, what do you see as the biggest difference between your younger clients and your older clients?
PH –Younger clients are more cutting-edge, out there and ready to learn new things. Middle-generation guys want to try it but they are more reluctant and wait for it to come to them. The older-generation will try some different things but are a little more resistant to learn. But, I heard a quote once: “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance a whole lot less.” That is how I think the younger generation looks at our industry.
Mitchell, what do you see as the biggest difference in your generation of farmers versus your dad’s, or even your grandfather’s?
MC – The biggest thing right now is that there are two big gaps in farmers – my dad’s age and my age. There are very few my grandpa’s age that are still in charge of the day-to-day operation. The biggest difference on the business aspect is that the younger farmers have a willingness to put themselves out there. Our generation has had the benefits of technology, hybrids, application of fertilizer (soil management) and we are more aggressive than some of the older generations.
My generation also looks at the farm as a business and not just family tradition. We want to diversify the farm even more than older generations. Sometimes, I think we need to look for different ways to make a living, partly because we are hard workers who haven’t been burned yet. At our farm, we are always trying to balance the good and bad crop years (by being diversified). The older generations had to supply feed for their animals. So, they had to stay in both crops and livestock. Now, we can buy our feed fairly cheap when we get enough rain.
Why do more people your age not go into this industry?
PH – At least where I am at looking at the industry (West-Central Illinois), there are a lot of people I know that did go into ag. With farmers in this area, there are quite a few next generations that have gone away to college or for a job and now they are back on the farm. If you don’t have a family farm, it is hard to get into actual farming, so a service job in the industry is the next best thing.
MC – I think that our society is driving people away from our industry. There is such a big emphasis on academics but never any talks about self-education. You also don’t hear people talk about accountability. We are slowly adding more and more to the disconnect between the way food is raised and how you buy things from a store. People don’t eat at home but actually eat out more. Then, when you get into farming, if your dad doesn’t farm that many acres you have to ask yourself if you should come back to the farm or if you should go to the city where the jobs are. This continues to add to the disconnect between farming and food.
Why is it so hard to get into farming without a family farm?
PH – It is very hard to get started because it takes so much capital even with the special loans that are available.
What is the biggest struggle in keeping people in your community? Where are people going if they aren’t staying in the area and farming?
PH – There are a number of jobs like farming, teaching, banking and factory jobs that people can do. But, as far as being able to get the next generation to come back to small farming communities or to stay here in the first place, that’s getting more difficult. There just aren’t the types of jobs here that people would move here for. Or, if they come back, it is to farm or run a family business. So, people leave and find a job someplace else, most likely in an urban area. If we could create more jobs where you can be promoted and feel like you are progressing, that would help the area a lot.
Since you both live in a farming community, do you think people in your area are more in tune with where their food comes from? Why/why not?
PH – There is still a disconnect between “town” and “farm”…it’s ALL around them and compared to Chicago, yes, they are more familiar but they don’t think about it either. More of their food comes from the local IGA or Walmart.
MC – More in tune than people that live in cities, for sure. Town kids overall are more understanding and have more respect for agriculture than people from larger cities. There are many businesses that depend on the farmers and so many businesses that are family-owned. They have more appreciation and respect for the families that farm.
What is the one thing you’d want people to know about the industry?
PH – Farmers care more about what they do and their industry than what people give them credit for. There are always going to be different things that we can continue to try to get better at, but overall, farmers are good stewards of the land.
MC – First, before people make an opinion on agriculture, check the propaganda behind it. There are definitely things that farmers can continue to improve. But overall, farmers want to continue to be better stewards of the land.