Kelly Wilfert: A seat at the table for young agriculturists

By Kelly Wilfert
For MAA
Our youth are our future.
Few understand this better than the American farmer. From little ones on, agriculturists train our youth for the future. We plan to preserve the land, pass on the farm and share stories of our own lessons learned. From farm chores and tractor rides to 4-H and FFA, we teach agricultural youth to be future workers, professionals and leaders.
Yet, as USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture shows, the average age of U.S. farmers is 58.3 years old and steadily rising, and farms and companies face difficulty recruiting and retaining young talent. The companies that “win” in the race for employees will be those who allow our future, our youth, to step up.

It’s time to ensure a seat at the table for young agriculturists. In early 2017, then-National FFA Vice President Valerie Earley sat directly to the left of President Donald Trump and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to participate in a “Farmers Roundtable” at the White House. Similarly, as we discuss what the future of farming will look like, we must trust that we have trained our youth well and allow our future to have a hand in creating their own.
True participation – both listening and being listened to – creates strong commitment from young leaders who strive to have their ideas heard. While not every young agriculturist will have the opportunity to discuss agricultural policy with the president and secretary of agriculture, there are many other opportunities to give youth and young employees a seat – and a voice – at the table.
For example, consider including young agriculturists when discussing succession planning. Beginning farmers and ranchers are entering a difficult farm economy. They may wish to buy a farm but may be unsure where to start. By including them in open and honest conversations about the future of the farm, both current owners and potential successors can understand where they stand and initiate a healthy transfer process.
You may also invite these young leaders to participate in agricultural groups, such as Farm Bureau, trade organizations and breed groups. Growing up in 4-H, FFA and similar organizations, many young agriculturists have been trained to plan events, volunteer in service projects and lead healthy discussion. Once the green clover or the blue jacket passes, many wonder, “what’s next?” Reaching out and including these young agriculturists helps them continue to learn as well as bolsters your organization’s membership. Joining a new group may seem intimidating, but your friendly face and open invitation can go a long way.
A third option may be simply explaining “why” in your conversations with young employees. According to Forbes, millennials value the opportunity to grow and be challenged. The young agriculturist you work with may not have decades of experience. However, when you make a business decision, take the time to include this younger individual, discuss what options you see and explain why you are making the choice. Young employees and coworkers will gratefully recognize this extra time on the front end as an investment in their future.
In agriculture, we have long recognized the value of training our youth. Let’s continue to give those young leaders the opportunity to prove that our investments of time are well spent on their talent. We must remember to listen, learn and try. Shared perspectives – whether from experienced knowledge or new ideas – are an opportunity for all. The future is coming, and young agriculturists are ready for a seat at the table.
Kelly Wilfert is a law clerk with Investors Community Bank in Manitowoc, Wis.