Editor’s Desk: Is this the last generation?

The above title caught my eye as I was thumbing through some 2011 back issues of Country Guide.

Hmm, I wondered, have the last five years changed what I think about whether young people can successfully take over enough of our family farms to actually comprise a “generation?” Or will they even want to?

In 2011, after all, most of us still had stars in our eyes, even though we tried not to. World population was growing, ethanol use was growing, China’s middle class was growing, so although of course there will always be volatile markets because of weather, it seemed certain that commodity prices had ratcheted up and would never sink close to unprofitable levels for years to come.

Of course, too, in 2011 we hadn’t comprehended exactly how high land prices would climb, and how difficult it would be for farms to continue expanding so the next generation would have an adequate operational base to start their career.

Nor had we foreseen the fact that the extra zeroes on the balance sheet can introduce all sorts of caution into anyone’s thinking.

When I speak to ag students today, I always tell them that the No. 1 thing that keeps their parents awake at night is whether their children have the skills and the aptitudes to take over the farm, not only so they can build their own careers, but also so they won’t fritter away everyone else’s nest egg at the same time.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but only a bit. Today’s youth know that no one looked at their parents and judged them so toughly. And you can’t blame them if it seems unfair. But neither can you entirely blame the parents for saying, “times have changed.”

Even so, in all my thinking about agriculture, and after all the seminars I’ve attended and all the experts I’ve listened to, it still boils down to the same thing.

External economic factors do play a role in determining whether a young person gets started on the farm. But internal factors play a much larger one.

As you have read in past issues of Country Guide, and as you will read in future issues, where there is a passion for farming, and where this passion is coupled with a strong sense of values, our young people are finding a way.

It turns out there isn’t the same kind of ladder that there used to be, where everybody starts off on the same rung, but there are also more opportunities, and more kinds of opportunities than ever before.

I’m convinced that the family farm has a future because of the evidence of my eyes. Obviously we need to do more to remove some of their obstacles, but we also have to trust our young hopefuls with the chance to prove themselves. Am I getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].

About the author


Tom Button is editor of Country Guide magazine.


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