Planting the seeds of tomorrow: Getting youth into ag

Alwin Kopse, Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture

Alwin Kopse, of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture, speaks at the Committee on World Food Security 45 side event titled, "Agriculture is not cool? Think again. Closing the generation gap."

What does it mean for the future of our world food supply when the average age of farmers is bordering on 60? Perhaps more importantly, with 42% of our population considered youth, why aren't more young people joining the ag industry? It was a topic greatly discussed during the UN-FAO Committee on World Food Security meeting in October.

Agriculture is a field with historic relevance leading back to the early hunter-gatherer societies of humanity. During these times, it was a cultural expectation that everyone had a role in maintaining the land. Traditionally, men would embody the role of the hunter, while women maintained the agricultural land as the gatherer. Although having different roles, commonality was met with the expectation that all youth would continue the tradition and become the agricultural leaders needed to ensure the survival of their society. A tradition that has since diminished in the majority of society, as generational farmers continue to exist, but their children are becoming less likely to carry-on the family legacy.

The idea that young people think that farming is not cool, the desire of youth to live in thriving cities, or that farming is hard physical work that young people today don’t desire; are some but not the main points of why youth are not interested in farming. Additionally, yes, though job security and our society's push toward medical, technological, and engineering careers are a greater cause for this generational divide; I believe that the answer to this question is rooted in a greater issue: knowledge.

With our world globalizing at a pace faster than ever before, information is at its optimal point of accessibility in today's society. It is in this society where the media focuses on trending topics where agriculture is lost among the millions of strands of information accessible by a click of a button. Without this knowledge, the mundane traditional perceptions of farming will continue to spread, as the field continues to diminish, while youth continue to believe that there is not a place for them in agriculture. However, what if I told you that this was just not true; and that in fact the agriculture field is a place of opportunity for youth and older generations alike? Here are three debunked misconceptions about youth in agriculture.

1. Technology is growing in agriculture. In fact, it even has its own word, Agri-tech. Agri-tech, is the use of technology for agriculture, aquaculture, and horticulture that is developed to improve efficiency and profitability. This includes the usage of Mobile Applications for Agriculture focused on efforts of connecting farmers and sponsors, to the usage of Drones for Agriculture, focused on monitoring fields and livestock. It even includes Information Communication Technologies (ICT) like podcasts and other social media efforts (on platforms like Planet Forward) to bring awareness to agriculture. Lastly, and what I found most impressive is that it there is even Blockchain for Agriculture, which allows the usage of virtual money such as Bitcoin to be used in investment and sales of produce and agritech. In fact, according to Forbes Magazine, agri-tech is a key area of focus for investors globally. A field that continues to surprise, and actually has many career paths and even more job opportunities in agriculture technology.

2. Farming can be very profitable. Though sometimes becoming a farmer may have humble beginnings, it doesn't mean that you can't make a profit out of it. In fact, there are actually multiple financial resources available in the U.S. alone. Additionally, if you're considered to be youth, there are even more financial opportunities for you. With there being such high-demand in the agricultural field, specifically in farming, many governmental and non-profit organizations are creating financial opportunities and rewards to encourage people, specifically youth, to pursue a career in the field. After you've secured this funding the next part can be tricky, but with the right practices, your farm can be very profitable. This highly depends on two things: the type of crops you grow and how you choose to operate your farm. From a face-value level, the type of crops you grow can increase your potential profit greatly. Just check out these two links which explain the five and 10 highly profitable farming ventures. Through this method, you are essentially guaranteed a higher potential profit by growing and raising produce that is in high demand on the market. On the contrary, for someone who does not have the capabilities or environment of producing products such as this, your second option is to alter the manner in which you operate your farm. According to AGWeb.com, though all farms can be profitable, there are common denominators in the farms that have the biggest success. This includes things from the inclusion of more technology or using outside experts, to revamping their accounting practices to better represent their actual costs. Nevertheless, if they can do it, so can you.

Woman in mountainous fields of crops
(Kudung Setiawa)

3. Agriculture can complement your life goals. There are a multitude of agriculture jobs beyond farming. Although farmers are in high-demand, the remainder of the agricultural field is vast. This includes jobs from agricultural engineering and wildlife/forest conversation to forest health specialist. This field is not only sustainable within itself, but can easily pair with your own ambitions and goals. For example, if you're a student majoring in finance with hopes of venturing into banking, consider adding a focus in agriculture and there are jobs such as a Wells Fargo Senior Business Relationship Manager - Agriculture available. Banking isn't your thing, but you're really interested in working in communications? Perfect. Most companies or organizations focused in agriculture, aquaculture, etc., also have to maintain communication and public relations with the surrounding world. So as you're thinking about your future, think about how agriculture might pair well with your career goals and apply to an internship or two to give it a try.

Agriculture is the world around us, and just like the world around us, it is versatile and open to all. Though it has had a negative perception, the agricultural field is actually a field of opportunity. So, truth be told, it's not that there is not a place for youth in agriculture, instead, it's that youth have the opportunity to make agriculture something that it never has been before.

The future of agriculture is technology, it's youth, and it's change. For the agriculture of tomorrow begins now, with you.

Editor's note: This series, A Zero Hunger Future, is generously sponsored by the UN-FAO. All editorial content is created independently. To discover more experiential learning opportunities, email editor@planetforward.org.

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