It’s no secret that you have to have an optimistic soul to be in agriculture. Certainly there are plenty of daily challenges that could knock more pessimistic folks to their knees.
Will the spring planting season cooperate? Will summer rains fall in a timely manner? Will diseases stay at bay? Will my risk-management strategies pay off? It’s often said that being a farmer is being the ultimate gambler.
That explains why some pork producers have “cashed it all in” to stay in business during this last stretch of losses, as some lenders have observed. Yes, it’s partly because pork producers are so heavily tied to their business choice, but it’s also because they are betting on the rebound.
What’s most encouraging is that the newest generation of farmers remains optimistic about their profession. One would think that after the past couple of years of facing the most volatile markets in history, those just starting out would be the least optimistic. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
For the 18th year, the American Farm Bureau Federation has asked farmers and ranchers, ages 18 to 35, about various aspects of their career choice. This year’s responses tell us there are still plenty of concerns about profitability, government regulations and activist groups, but 80 percent said they are more optimistic than they were five years ago. Even more surprising, 82 percent said they are better off than they were five years ago.
Citing their top three challenges, 24 percent ranked overall profitability as No. 1, followed closely by government regulations at 23 percent. Tying for third were competition from more established farms and ranches, and parents’ willingness to share management responsibilities, each receiving 9 percent. While that last one always seems to make the list, it’s an internal issue versus the others, which are outside influencers.
As activist groups become more vocal, 85 percent of the young farmers said they worry about the potential impact on their operations; only 7 percent expressed little concern.
There’s also significant apprehension about potential government interventions and regulations, such as cap-and-trade or Environmental Protection Agency rules. Seventy-nine percent were highly concerned about future climate-change regulations.
That in no way is an implication that today’s young farmers and ranchers are reckless with the environment. In fact, 68 percent said that balancing environmental and economic concerns is important for everyone, including their operations.
A finding that would surprise our urban counterparts, who too often perceive agriculture as looking for a handout, is the fact that 83 percent said farm income should come solely from the marketplace. Only 17 percent said income should be supplemented by government farm-program payments.
So what steps can the federal government take to help farmers and ranchers? Twenty-three percent cited cutting federal spending; 14 percent said boosting U.S. agricultural exports; ranking third at 11 percent was providing more help to beginning farmers.
Communicating with consumers is a requirement. Seventy-seven percent said they consider reaching out to the public to inform them about agriculture and their operations is an important part of their jobs. That certainly is a notable switch and a positive trend.
They see social media networks as a way to reach out to consumers. Nearly 75 percent have a Facebook page; 10 percent use Twitter; 12 percent post YouTube videos.
But thankfully, it’s not just young farmers who are optimistic. Last month, I attended three major industry meetings and found that the veterans are more positive than one would imagine. Perhaps it’s a response to the camaraderie of being together, perhaps it’s the promise of better days ahead or perhaps it’s the thought that things simply can’t get worse. I’d say that it’s driven by another core farming trait — “We’ve got a lot to do; let’s get to work.”
Identifying solutions, maintaining optimism and looking forward were driving traits at both the National Pork Producers Council’s and National Pork Board’s meetings last month. You will see that NPB is embarking on a five-year strategic plan that includes changing course on pork promotions.
The same drive was evident at the American Association of Swine Veterinarians’ meeting, as that group’s tenacious search for solutions to herd health challenges, on-farm production and management improvements, as well as the future supply of food-animal veterinarians, is always impressive.
So, after visiting with these groups, there’s no question that optimism also prevails among pork production’s veterans.
AFBF’s survey tells us that the newest generation of farmers is deeply committed to agriculture — 96 percent consider themselves life-long farmers or ranchers. What’s more, they have hope for the next generation — 98 percent would like to see their children follow in their footsteps; 85 percent believe their children will be able to do so.
So, with that kind of dedication, there continues to be good reason to be optimistic about the future of U.S. agriculture. It looks like it will remain in capable hands.