At our PACE Advisory Council meeting last October, one of the most captivating topics the group discussed was generational turnover. Not surprisingly, we spent a great deal of time on social media, and trying to figure out what the older generation needs to learn and do in order to communicate effectively with next generation farmers and workers.
But the “effective communication” discussion was just a part of everyone’s larger concern about generational turnover in agriculture: What does the next generation of farmers want from the service providers and suppliers of seed and inputs, and how do we attract young people into a career in agriculture?
The first part of the above is and has been the subject of voluminous studies and focus groups with findings that are too unwieldy to fit into a tidy one-page column. But on the question of attracting youth to ag, some interesting points were made that are worth sharing.
Today, the stakes are higher because there are simply fewer young people with experience in agriculture. Not only do we need to try to keep the restless natives here, but we have to find a way to bring in new folks as well. Everyone around the table at PACE is currently facing, or sees just down the road, the retirements of key employees that could quickly drain institutional knowledge.
There was also agreement that there is no magic fix or one-size-fits-all solution, other than to work hard on recruitment and retention strategies, try a number of different techniques.
One point I thought was particularly interesting was the notion that today’s graduates want to work in a field where they feel they are “making a difference in the world.” For us in modern agriculture, the case we make is a double-edged sword. We undoubtedly make a difference by providing safe, abundant and affordable food to the country, and the world. But the rhetoric (especially with the city folk I encounter every day) is that we are doing too much damage along the way. The enviro-blogs are dripping with negativity, half-truths, and no-truths about who we are and what we do, and the young people are listening.
So, as noble as “feeding the world” is, that message is not enough. We need to show folks the lengths to which we go to ensure we operate in an environmentally responsible way. They need to see the technology we use, the methods we employ … that we make a difference not only by what we do, but how we do it.
One way to more tangibly show your work on this front is by entering the Environmental Respect Awards program, administered by the CropLife Media Group and sponsored by DuPont Crop Protection. The program is entering its 21st year in 2011.
Companies that have been named state, regional, and national award winners have benefitted greatly from the experience, and have tangible evidence of their organization’s environmental culture and spirit. Even those who participate and don’t win find benefit in having gone through the exercise and discovering ways to improve the operation.
Winners often hold community appreciation events in honor of the award, hang signs promoting it, and use it as a way to ingrain environmental responsibility deeper into the employee culture.
Nominations are now being accepted. To learn more about the program, visit www.environmentalrespect.com.