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Editor’s Desk: Test the next generation

I can’t help thinking we’d all be better off if some of those exuberant FCC T-shirts that shout “100% Farm Boy” or “Future Farmer” would curb their enthusiasm just a notch.

Yes, it’s a great time in agriculture, all things considered, and yes, agriculture is a great place to be, but we should think twice before we allow ourselves to forget all the wisdom that was learned at such high cost during the 25 years that led up to 2008’s reversal of agriculture’s outlook and the optimism of our youth.

In particular, with a new crop of college and university grads heading home to the farm, we should think back to the advice that was almost universally accepted only a few years ago.

That advice was for the next generation to work off the farm for a minimium of three or four years (or, more likely, five to seven years) before returning to the farm.

We may be tempted to look back at that advice, thinking it was only meant to ensure that the son or daughter really did want to farm, but there was much more to it than that.

Off-farm employment meant the next generation had to prove themselves, because there was an expectation that was sometimes articulated, sometimes not.

That was that the next generation wouldn’t just prove they could hold on to a non-farm job, they would have to prove that they could excel at it. They would have to show that they were promotable, that they were valued by their colleagues, and that they could manage their own households and their own careers.

It was an encouraging sign too if they started showing that they respected and wanted to learn from their bosses for their knowledge and for their management skills.

At home, they would then have to demonstrate that by putting their workplace experience in play, they could bring strength and value to the farm.

Nor should we be too dismissive of the value of their time in the city for giving them a better chance to judge whether they really want to come back to the farm. Success comes in many shapes.

Do I predict a gloomy future for young farmers today who don’t get off-farm experience? Maybe, for some of them.

Much more important, though, is to consider whether the bulk of today’s young farmers, good as they are, would be even better if they had to prove themselves in an unfamiliar world, where they could learn lessons that will stand them in good stead all their lives.

Look around you now at the 40-somethings who emerged 15 or 20 years ago when this philosophy was so widely adopted. I am continually impressed with their competence and their dedication. I expect you are too.

Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].

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