Across the country, the aging of American agriculture is evident as pointed out by the 2012 Census Of Agriculture. Nationally, the average age of the principal farm manager is 58 years old. So, the time is ripe for GenNext Growers to step up and engage with leadership in the ag industry.
In the coming months, the GenNext Growers Network will air a series of webcasts to provide young leaders with professional development advice so they can prepare to take the baton from the previous generation. The first webcast in this series, “The Insider’s View: Working With Lawmakers And Agricultural Associations To Shape A Better Future,” is now available for viewing online.
I served as moderator in this discussion with Ben Albritton, Florida District 56 Representative, and Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, offering:
- Advice to help you successfully express the needs of your business to law and policymakers at home and in Washington D.C.
- Insight on the role you can play with your local, state, regional, or national associations and how they can help your farming operation
- Real-world examples that show how critical it is for GenNext Growers to be involved now to ensure a strong future for our industry.
Clear And Present Need
During the webcast, Stuart said the aging of the farming population presents a real challenge for associations like FFVA.
“Just here in Florida, more than two-thirds of principal farm operators are older than 55,” he said. “And, about half of those people are older than 65. So the question is: Where is the next generation of leadership going to come from? We all are dealing with policy issues like water and labor reform, but at the same time, there is this potentially huge problem of filling leadership roles in the future.”
Given that growers make up less than 2% of the population, the demographics show up in the representation of elected officials in state legislatures and in Washington, D.C.
“If you look at the Florida legislature, there are 160 folks in Tallahassee — 120 in the House and 40 in the Senate,” Albritton said. “Altogether, there are about seven or eight elected officials that have a distinct connection to agriculture. That is a pretty small number.”
Despite the small numbers, Albritton added agriculture is heading into an exciting period when the voices of young leaders need to be heard by those shaping policy.
“There are a lot of things about to happen in the Florida legislature, one mainly being a statewide water policy,” he said. “In Florida agriculture, we understand the ramifications when we start talking about water supply and water quality as it relates to farming and fertilizer practices. So, we are going to be on the radar to a level we have not seen before.
“The need for advocacy will continue to grow as agriculture becomes less of a commodity and tourism and construction comes roaring back. The number of folks out there fighting for agriculture will likely shrink. We can’t measure our need for advocacy based on today. We have to think about where we are going in five years and where we want to be in 10 years. It will certainly be an elevated need for advocacy.”
“When you are 2% of the population, if you don’t activate and motivate your people, you are not going to get the job done,” Stuart said.
So GenNexters might be wondering, how do I engage with lawmakers and ag associations? They need look no further than the webcast for advice on how to get involved. Albritton said the first step in reaching out to lawmakers is just doing it and not sitting on the sidelines assuming someone else will speak for you. The next step is simply call the elected official’s office and ask for a time when he or she is available to meet with constituents.
“Think about what you want to say ahead of time and be clear on what you plan to communicate,” he said. “Get well versed on those issues that are important to you and then have a light conversation. Don’t feel like you have to dive deep into the issue the first time you meet. And remember, the first thing you do is thank them for their time and the last thing you do is thank them for their time.”
For GenNexters looking to engage in ag associations like FFVA, Stuart says there are opportunities for young people to get involved through committees or other issue-related task forces.
“Contact the association and ask what types of committees or opportunities to serve exist within the association,” Stuart said. “It is the old saying, if you don’t apply, it is surely not going to happen. You may not make the committee or task force the first time around, but be persistent and doors will open for you.”
〉Click here to sign up and view the on-demand version of “The Insider’s View: Working With Lawmakers And Agricultural Associations To Shape A Better Future.”