Young Producers: Opportunities and Stakes are High

By: Dr. Kohl

Recently, I participated in a press conference concerning the future of agriculture, and one of my comments was taken out of context.  My quote was, “There will be more opportunity in agriculture in the next 10 years;” however, the press stopped there.  They failed to mention that I also said, “…but the stakes will be higher with greater possibility of failure.”  This is particularly true for the young producers, women, and minorities I have seen attending agricultural seminars in increasing numbers.

To ensure that this younger generation of producers is ready for the challenges of the next decade, the Farm Credit System and others have made a concerted effort to provide educational venues covering a wide range of subjects for a diverse set of business models.  Programs range from online courses intermixed with face-to-face sessions, to those that are extended multi-day programs in seminar format.  Young agriculturalists are eager to apply their talents to an industry being called upon to provide food, fiber, and fuel to a growing world population.

It has been very enjoyable and rewarding to conduct many of these young producer programs where the objectives are not only to inform, but motivate participants to action, and provide networking opportunities.

This group faces challenges including high startup costs, obtaining capital, maintaining balance in business and family dynamics, and overall time management.  Others in family businesses are challenged by intergenerational family issues and communications, along with the economics of buying-out parents, relatives, or siblings while still maintaining a positive bottom line.

That being said, this generation of “cup half-full” thinkers is intrigued by the possibilities of being entrepreneurial, with an attitude that one size of business does not fit all.  Other producers are challenged to engage consumers and the public that has grown distant from their agricultural roots.  Some young families cherish the possibility to teach work ethic and value systems to their children and other youth through their farm or ranch.

In an environment that will be more challenging with volatility at the extremes, what actions will place the ledger in the young producers’ favor? While this list is not comprehensive, here are a few ideas for success.

  • First, keeping accurate financial records and an overall management system is not an option, but a requirement.
  • Second, developing and placing into action a sound business plan that is flexible enough to adjust to the rapidly changing business environment is critical.
  • Having a good team of advisors, including lenders, suppliers, mentors, and positive-thinking peers will be vital in managing the emotional roller coaster.
  • The new generation will be interdependent and interconnected for success.  Enhancement of people skills whether dealing with suppliers, consumers, the public, or employees and family members is an element that needs to be stressed.
  • Knowing your strengths and compensating for your weaknesses will develop a balanced approach to a sustainable business model.

In this high opportunities and high stakes environment, the following quote by Gene Brown sums it up.  “The good thing about being young is that you are not experienced enough to know you cannot possibly do the things you are doing.”