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Future of Young People in Agriculture

Dr. David Kohl, Professor Emeritus Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech University

I am writing this article from a corner office overlooking Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium, campus and airport. This view on a sunny afternoon moved me to ponder the future. Will sporting events ever get back to normal? Will face-to-face classes be back soon, or will they continue in an online or hybrid format? What is the future for aspiring young people in the agriculture industry? The latter question was posed to agricultural lenders during a recent webinar. More specifically, what was their opinion concerning young people being engaged in all areas of agriculture? Often agricultural lenders are a source of insight and perspective, particularly in rural areas throughout America.

Nearly 54% of the lenders were optimistic or very optimistic concerning the future for young people in the agriculture industry. Nineteen percent of the respondents were neutral, and 28% were pessimistic or very pessimistic in regard to the future of young people in the agricultural industry. However, the ratio of positive to negative perceptions was almost 2:1.

What attributes will be necessary for young people in the future environment of the agriculture industry? First, being a self-starter and independent will be important. Self-discipline, staying on task, working through projects with pride, and being able to execute on these will definitely be differentiating attributes.

The future will be one of technology intertwined with human skills. How your nonverbal communication is demonstrated, even on webcasts and emails, and perceived by the end user will be a new frontier. Critical thinking and considering unintended consequences will be a key skill in an emotionally supercharged environment.

For those aspiring to be in business, an entrepreneurial attitude with the skills and discipline to complete and execute a business plan will be necessary attributes. Developing and enhancing a brand by staying abreast of trends, simplifying complex opportunities and challenges, and providing a good experience are attributes that will present a blank check for both self-actualization and business success.

Black swan events generally accelerate the pace of change and the COVID-19 pandemic has done just that. Thus, lifelong learning, selective mentorship, guidance with an eye on the horizon and a focus on the here and now can provide a rewarding journey in the vital agriculture industry.

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