The reality is that Millennials are the new face of agriculture; in fact, the industry is expected to grow by 70 percent over the next 10 years, and during that time 80 percent of working Baby Boomers will exit the workforce.
I began working in agriculture eight years ago, and more times than I can count, I’ve been the only Millennial in the room. Sitting through hundreds of co-op meetings, I’m usually surrounded by a large majority of Baby Boomers and Generation X farmers. Our conversations centered mostly on our differences, not our similarities.
As a Millennial, I’ve felt these differences on a daily basis, and I’ve consistently struggled with communicating my beliefs and my position to an older crowd; this obvious divide transcends age and has crept into sales tactics, technology, communication and management styles. There is a disconnect among the generations, and frustrations can run high on all sides when differences in opinions take center stage over the work.
Differences aside, I always come back to the reality: Millennials are the new face of agriculture. And it’s time to address the different mentalities, but also focus on the future and how the ag industry must adapt (in some ways and some practices) to make way for the Millennial generation.
Different generations = different mentalities
The generational gap in agriculture between the Boomers and Millennials dates back to the 1980s and 1990s, when Generation X graduates were coming home from school to a declining farming economy, choosing to pursue employment opportunities in different industries. This gap didn’t help in terms of softening the transition, which makes the divide between Boomers and Millennials even more evident.
We’re all aware of the stereotypes each generation has been assigned, and my belief is that some of them hit the nail on the head while others fall flat. I can acknowledge that each generation has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, but that didn’t make it any less fun to look at some of the comparisons.
Millennials and their entrepreneurial spirit
Millennials are eager to let their entrepreneurial spirit fly in rural America. A recent HSBC study looked at 4,000 entrepreneurs across 11 countries who had at least $250,000 in personal wealth. Researchers found that Millennial entrepreneurs are more interested in bettering themselves, building a name for themselves and having a positive impact on their community, as compared to their older peers; only 16.6 percent of U.S. respondents in their 50s say they would become an entrepreneur to have a positive impact in their community compared to 28.5 percent of entrepreneurs in their 20s. Millennials are eager to make a difference through their work (like feeding the hungry or creating a sustainable system), and that’s more important than the number on their paycheck.
As the agriculture industry continues to change and adjust to new practices and a new workforce, Millennials are well-versed on the impact technology has in the 21st century. Today’s entrepreneurial spirit is all about being tech-savvy and knowing how to use it to leverage opportunities. With today’s software applications and cloud storage, vast amounts of data can now be captured and analyzed, better informing business decisions. Whereas Boomers ranked lowest on levels of adaptiveness and collaborations, Millennials know you have to be able to adapt in order to innovate; they’re ready to push the envelope forward and step outside their comfort zone to reach new levels of success.
Attracting and retaining Millennials
For Millennials, working in agriculture doesn’t equate to working on a farm. Of the approximately 22 million Americans who work in agriculture-related fields, only 10 percent work on traditional farms. Agribusiness, resource development and management, and food science are all leveraging Millennials to bring innovation, technology and well-being to communities across the U.S.
So now that there’s no longer the belief that all agriculturists are farmers, Millennials are bringing some new requirements to the table. First, they don’t understand the confines of a 9-to-5 day job and believe that their performance should be valued not by how long they sit in an office chair but by their output and the value they add. Fortune contributor Adam Miller shares:
“Today’s high-performing companies bake flexibility into the core of their corporate culture, letting employees set their own schedules as long as they get their work done. Plenty of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers care about it too, but Millennials are leading the way in prioritizing job flexibility.”
Millennials also want to be inspired, and they want to be part of the solution. Instead of spending their time earning a paycheck, they want to be able to grow both personally and professionally. They’re passionate about job training and their career goals, and are willing to work hard if a company is transparent, sharing its goals as well as where and how they see their young employees fitting into the equation.
Millennials have long been considered” the future of work.” Well, the future of work is here, and it’s important for all players in the collective ag system to move forward, understand Millennials’ strengths and weaknesses, and make room (and adjustments) for the future of the agriculture industry.
Casey Chasteen is the business development director at Sprout Solutions, a full-service software platform that provides mills and merchandisers in the agricultural industry with accurate, Web-based tools and systems to ensure the food they produce is not only safe, but traceable. What kind of positive or negative experiences have you had working with Millennials? Share your thoughts on our Facebook and Twitter pages.