Guest post by Elaine Froese
I remember an article in a copy of Fast Company I picked up a few years back, that was describing “millennials,” the people in the workforce who were born after 1978. There were several insights about what made millennials tick, so I extrapolated what millennial farmers might want to see happen for them. I also had the privilege of meeting an energetic group of the Alberta Young Farmers’, people who are young, and positive about their future in agriculture. Here are ten things I learned that millennial farmers want.
To Be Heard
10 Things Millennial Farmers Want in Life
They have ideas and opinions. Respect the need of the younger generation to feel that they have many things to contribute to the operation. If ideas have been well-researched, give time and thought to incorporating that discussion in your farm business meeting. You are having regular farm business meetings, aren’t you?
To Have a Chance
"Elaine, I would give anything to be on the farm, but my parents sold ours.” How about adopting this young, aspiring farmer as your son? A dairy farm couple in Saskatchewan has given a chance to farm their operation to a young man who lives in town, across the road. Another dairy farmer in Eastern Manitoba has a 10-year written employment agreement with a young lad who started on the farm at fifteen and now owns quota, land, and the house his employer keeps the mortgage on. What a chance!
A bachelor uncle is giving his nephew guidance and leverage opportunities to leave a farm business legacy to the younger generation. A fruit-grower in B.C. gives homeless people dignity and respect by training them to work in his orchard, and live in a camper. Comb the high school hallways for young folks who love to weld and fix things, and don’t want to depart to the big city.
To Use Their Head More Than Their Back
Millennials are the kids who have grown up “wired.” They have no fear of technology, and just keep pressing buttons until they figure things out. Their “techie” skills come in handy for setting the grain monitors, auto-steer, and helping figure out the GPS
As they have no problem using ag software like a blackberry or palm pilot to track records; you should train them to do the books and tracking. This means letting go of some power and control, and seeing the opportunity for a really well-trained business planning team. They’ll design your new website, and maybe even get you blogging!
To Have a Life
“Money is highly over-rated” quipped one young farm son who plans to seek outside interests and fun off the farm. Millennials want quality of life at age 30, and will not be workaholics like their grandparents or parents. They reject a lifestyle that is all work and look for creative ways to have a margin for fun. Some will refuse to work full-time. Some farms are designing shift work modeled after other industry sectors, to ensure that the workers can watch their children’s hockey games and have family time beyond the demands of the farm. This approach is working for larger farm corporations in Saskatchewan who are tired of the “oil-patch debate citing labor as a tough issue.” They’ve found that the quality of life argument wins over the high stakes single lifestyle of the oil patch.
The Freedom and Independence of Farming
They are committed to making the farm work, but not necessarily in the same way. Many of the millennials will have an off-farm income stream to offset the mortgages, that may be held by Mom and Dad. When they choose to dedicate all their working time to the farm, it may mean a change in lifestyle or not. The young farmers I’ve talked to are entrepreneurs who see a future in agriculture. They have multiple skill sets, and work strategically with new farm business models to create the future they envision. This may mean joining another existing farmer and that business to create a larger dairy farm, with two non-related families on the business partnership. I recently enjoyed the exciting phone call of a young dairy farmer who was exploring a creative, legal alliance with his best friend, another dairy farmer. The families are exploring ways to keep some lifestyle freedom and have the return on energy and investment of a joint venture.
To Be Globally Smart
Young farmers like to travel and learn about global agricultural issues, but let’s be realistic. Advocates need to pay attention to the details they are managing on their own farm. These young farmers can’t be off the farm for four days of meetings, so try to think of ways to meet virtually with phones, computers, and pre-meeting power-point presentations. The energy of youth and management responsibilities need to be considered when agricultural policy leaders expect the same old way of policy planning in person. Women will be involved if they don’t have childcare issues, so webinars are a great tool for communicating without leaving the farm
A Wide Range of Experiences
We have two farming friends who scuba dive, which a difficult feat in the flatlands of the prairies. Millennials have lists of what they want to accomplish because they are used to trying everything they want to. Paint-balling, extreme sports, bungee jumping, travel abroad for a walkabout in Australia or New Zealand are on their lists.
To Just Get It Done
Millennials are multitaskers; listening to their favorite tunes while emailing, playing a game and doing the business plan. Maybe some of the millennial’s work habits aren’t quite up to your standards. The bins could be cleaner, and the cattle need to be fed more efficiently, but the job is done, isn't it?
Wanting fewer hassles, millennials can’t take difficult feedback. Any negative comments may be hard to receive, as these kids are used to success, high achievement, and always getting what they want. Parents may interfere with their performance appraisals if they have some weaknesses that need to be improved. Conflict is a normal part of life, so why do these young people have a hard time processing disagreements or negative feedback. “When I try to be firm with my son, he quickly accuses me of being angry. I am just trying to get his attention with my voice tone, and ensure that he is receiving the message!”
To Know What’s Going On
Millennial farmers want to know what's going on in the world because successful farmers read. Fast Company is my magazine of choice to get a cultural snapshot of what is happening in our world. Does the ag. media give you a good view of what is happening abroad that is a great model to inspire your entrepreneurship on the farm?
To Stay Wired
Young farmers want to stay connected and communicate with others that are in their social group. Whether it's the kids from college and university that were part of the advocacy group or other social events, keeping in touch by email and phone allow for great opportunities to network and acquire new possibilities. Try joining the Canadian Young Farmer’s Forum
Learning about the international policy that affects the future and gleaning new perspectives, and having an opinion that ag. companies will listen to is part of the passion that fuels young farmers to believe there is a future in agriculture.
"Elaine Froese, CSP, CAFA, CHICoach is author of Building Your Farm Legacy, and has a farm family toolkit at www.elainefroese.com to help you . Buy her audiobook. Follow her on Twitter @elainefroese or FB Elaine Froese Farm Family Coach. Elaine rolls up her sleeves on her seed farm near Boissevain, Manitoba."