Opinion: Inspiring A New Generation Of Farmers Takes Teamwork

Frank GilesThis month, the USDA’s Ag Statistics Service will release the full results of the “2012 Census Of Agriculture.” It will tell us all sorts of things about the pulse of farming in America down to the county level.
USDA provided a sneak peek of some of the data that is within the report. It reveals our farming population continues to age.
The average age of the principle operator of an American farm is now 58.3 years old. That’s up 1.2 years since the 2007 Census and continues a 30-year trend of steady aging of our farming population.
This information underscores what could become a crisis in this country if not addressed in a meaningful way. We simply must inspire and provide the tools for the next generation of growers to continue to work the land that feeds us all.

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At presstime, I had not seen the full report, but for comparison, from the 2002 Census to the 2007 Census, the number of principle farm operators under the age of 45 had dropped by 21%. Let’s hope the 2012 results show less of a decline in this critical age group.
To clear a path for more young farmers, we must have an “all hands on deck” mentality. We are hoping to have a positive impact by building the GenNext Growers initiative. The program aims to develop a network of young growers and others involved in the agriculture industry.

You might have noticed every month we have been running a GenNext Growers article. The articles aim to provide professional development type of information that will be useful to the up-and-commers in our industry.
This is not just a Florida initiative — GenNext Growers is a nationwide partnership with our sister publications American/Western Fruit Grower and American Vegetable Grower.
Currently, there are about 200 members in the network, and that number is growing every day. If you are a grower or are involved in the ag industry and were born after 1970, we invite you to join this movement. You can sign up by clicking here, follow us on Twitter @GenNextGrowers, and like us at Facebook.com/GenNextGrowers.
We want to hear from you as well. If you have ideas on how we can make the program better, let us know. Have specific areas/subjects that you’d like to learn more about? Tell us and we’ll add it to our professional development portfolio.

The GenNext Growers program will not compete with the many fine young leader development programs already operating. In fact, GenNext will be a gathering place for people to continue the conversation after they graduate from the various programs.
We have great programs like FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program, Wedgworth Leadership Institute, and Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Program. We look to fully support those programs and others by sharing their news and encouraging participation in any program that develops the growers and leaders of tomorrow. Like I said, “All hands on deck.”

In the coming months, we will continue to publish GenNext Growers articles in the magazine and will be building a more robust presence online at GenNextGrowers.com.

I will end with a movie plug. If you want to be inspired about the next generation of growers, I encourage you to watch a new documentary called “Farmland,” which follows the stories of several young farm families. You can learn more at FarmlandFilm.com.