I was born in January 1997 and turned 22 this year. I will graduate from college just before I turn 23, entering into a moderately healthy job market. I was four years old when terrorists attacked our country on 9/11 and have almost no recollection of the immediate effects that event had on our country. But my entire childhood was spent living in a nation at war.
All of this information about my life can be summed up in one phrase: I am one of nearly 61 million members of Generation Z. I am part of the generation after Millennials and have a message for the next crop of agriculturalists, my fellow Gen Z’ers. So, if you were born after 1996, sit down, make sure your phone is charged, and let’s have a chat.
Here’s the thing: The Pew Research Center reports our generation is on track to be the most educated generation in history, yet only 13% of us were raised in a rural area. This means that agriculture needs us, because agriculture needs smart people who are interested in feeding, fueling and clothing the world.
But agriculture doesn’t just need you to hang around the farm from the day you are born until the day you die, content with doing things the way your parents do, or your grandparents did.
Agriculture needs people who are college-educated, have off-the-farm experiences and see the world through a broader lens, because the challenges rural America will face in the coming decades require modern solutions. Leave the farm for a few years to get your degree or for a decade to work in an industry unrelated to agriculture. You will be better for your experiences outside of your own fencerows. Your farm will be better for those experiences, too.
I also want you to know that agriculture has a place for you, even if it is not directly working on the farm. I hope you can find a place on the farm, but agriculture, as we used to say in my high school FFA chapter, is “more than cows, sows and plows.” Agriculture needs you in the board room, in the laboratory and in regional sales offices across the country. It needs you in the corner office of a local bank, in classrooms from Pomona, Kansas, to Pomona, California, and in the halls of Congress.
If there is only one thing you take away from this message, I hope it is that agriculture needs you to think outside of your farm, your hometown, your state. Agriculture needs you to dream bigger, even if it is only for a little while. It’s no secret that agriculture is struggling today, but it is people like you and me who will drive the industry forward, as long as we embrace the challenges of belonging to the next crop.