Of all the tough issues facing agriculture at this moment, perhaps the toughest is evaluating whether the next generation has the aptitudes and attitudes they’re going to need if they’re to make a success of their career in farming, and if they’re to be a reasonably safe bet as the guardians of critical family assets.
When I speak to classes at ag colleges, I tell the 18- and 19-year-olds that while Mom and Dad used to have sleepness nights worrying about the crop in the field, the dark circles under their eyes now are from worrying whether the kids have what it takes to take over the farm.
“They’re watching you,” I tell the students. Then I ask, “What are they seeing? And what should you be showing them?”
I worry about the boys. I’m surely not the first to notice that when boys hit their teens, they seem to lose their brains and with them any outward sign of ambition.
They’d rather play electronic games than worry about school. If they’re going to tackle something that takes smarts, it’s tweaking the truck rather than sorting out what a career path might look like.
It doesn’t help that our schools seem unconcerned about their boys losing ground. If you take two students, one a boy and one a girl, and put them into high school at the same time in almost any province in Canada, there’s nearly a 50 per cent better chance the girl will go to university.
This, we’re told, has nothing to do with teaching methods.
I’m not downplaying the obstacles that girls face and the burdens that they must deal with, and I hope I’m not leaving that impression at all. It’s just that for Mom and Dad on the farm, Jason’s marks in Grade 11 probably aren’t that great an indicator of how he will perform when higher function returns in his mid-20s.
The solution appears to be — both for our girls and our boys — to put more expectations on them earlier, and to insist on more opportunities to stretch their wings, including off-farm employment.
At the same time, mentorship is more important than ever, and today’s parents must train their kids in skills that they themselves were never trained in. The business demands on farmers have evolved too fast for their own parents to have understood many of the skills their children would need.
At Country Guide, we consciously write about young farmers in practically every month, and in this issue, I’d particularly recommend you read “Smarter Than You Think.”
Look for more in the next few issues too, but before spring arrives, why not set yourself a challenge: Come up with two ways that you’ll help your kids this summer that never would have occurred to your parents. And then sort out how to put them into practice.
And maybe you should tell the kids too.
Are we getting it right? Let me know at [email protected].