Can you feel it? There’s definitely something in the air. I’m writing this as we’re suffering a Polar Vortex and the icy cold air packs quite a bite, but that’s not what I’m talking about.
It’s hard not to miss the winds of change.
I’ve attended a few winter meetings this off-season and I’ve noticed the number of young growers, researchers, and other folks in our markets keeps growing. Yes, I know the average age of farmers is slowly inching upward and 53% of those who took our 2019 State of the Industry Survey say they do not have someone of the next generation to assume leadership of their operation.
But that said, change is happening.
When I first started writing for this magazine about a half-dozen years ago, the number of young growers coming to winter meetings were limited. There were a few, generally towing along with dad and grandpa like a third wheel. Or, they were all bunched together in the back of the room, hunched over and disinterested.
Also underrepresented were the young researchers and grad students presenting on topics.
But things have changed in just the few years I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing.
And nowhere is it more noticeable than with the Young Growers Alliance (YGA) in the Mid-Atlantic. I recently attended their lunch at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Convention in Hershey, PA, and I was impressed by how many bright young folks are coming into the industry — from all over the region. Some are third- and fourth-generation, sometimes even fifth-generation. And, it wasn’t just growers, there are a lot of new faces in research and Extension.
Tracy Leskey, Director of the USDA-ARS Appalachian Fruit Research Station, was a guest speaker at the lunch. Leskey, known for her work leading a nationwide project on the brown marmorated stink bug, remarked how she’s worked with attendees’ parents and grandparents.
The YGA is no stranger to the pages of this magazine. They’re one of the first and most robust young grower programs in the specialty crop industry, and many other states look to them as a role model. They travel around the country and the world to learn about cutting-edge horticultural practices. Professional development is a key part of what they do, and it’s not something to be overlooked. They also help serve underprivileged growers in Central America as part of the Nicaragua Ag Extension Project.
What I love about YGA is just how much the group feels like one big family, where they’re all working together to help bring the fruit (and vegetable) industry in the Mid-Atlantic into the future.
What’s also heartening to me is to see the number of young researchers presenting on key topics that impact growers. At Mid-Atlantic there were presentations on enhancing fruit color, alleviating bitter rot, and employing biological controls of brown marmorated stink bug. I was struck by just how many young faces I saw, and I think this is a reflection of the industry as a whole.
This influx of folks who are choosing agriculture and farming as a career is something worth noting. It’s a sign that the future is bright for young fruit growers. I’m going to keep doing my part to promote young professionals in the ag industry, and I encourage you to do so as well.
We need all the bright minds in this industry we can get!