Are We Planting Seeds for the Future of Agriculture?

It’s planting season. The central theme at the Bauman house in the months of May and June has traditionally been planting! Everything in our family life is arranged around that central theme. No social engagements can be committed to because of it and all meals are planned for and around it. In short, my schedule is “the” schedule. And really, can life get any better that that?

But, this year, planting has taken a back seat to another important event: high school graduation! There is a graduation gown hanging on the bedroom door de-wrinkling and college mail laying all over the place. We have been to the last band concert, the last vocal performance, the last debate banquet, and the last national honor society banquet. We’ve been to the last conference and we worked the last post-prom party. (Not to worry, somewhere in there I have planted a few acres!) Our fourth, and final, graduate is busy planning his future.

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Throughout this month and into the next, there are thousands more young South Dakotan men and women graduating from high school. Some are from farm backgrounds; all of them, whether they know it or not, are affected by AGRICULTURE. It’s our state’s largest industry and touches, in some way, everything and everyone in South Dakota. Just like at our house, those students are plotting a course for their futures. Will they enter the adult work force right out of the gate? Will they study online or enroll at a technical school? Will they head off to college? What course of study will they take? Will their choices lead them to remain in South Dakota? At our house, the decision of where to attend college and what to study has been a difficult one.

During college visits here in South Dakota, we learned that no matter what college you may choose, or the major you declare, the future job opportunities that we heard about all revolved, in some capacity, around agriculture. This was a fact that our student found quite surprising. When others discover that fact, will they be pleased, or disappointed?   Do they believe there are ample opportunities for them in agriculture, and in South Dakota?   And, more importantly, is there?

South Dakota farmers have aged, many farmers are now part-timers, and farms have increased in size while the number of farming operations has reduced. The 1980’s slump in the ag economy spelled hard times for agriculture in the state and pushed many out of production ag. Some of us who did survive it found ourselves discouraging our kids from coming back home to farm, hoping to spare them the economic hardships we had undergone.

It seems obvious to us that the world still needs to be fed, yet there appears to be a complete disconnect between the American public and where their food comes from. Those students who have participated in 4-H and FFA have a much clearer understanding than most, but, I wonder, who will come after us? Is the current agriculture career field enticing to our graduates? Have we done our part to create a setting that encourages their desire to work, live, and play in South Dakota? Are our actions continuing to create significant ag prospects for them?

According to South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture, Lucas Lentch, there is opportunity in agriculture in South Dakota. He reminds the present generation of ag industry participants that agriculture is continuing to evolve and that the need for powerful, creative minds is great. He prompts us to embrace these changes and to welcome the new.

Here is a little preview of what to expect from the future ag industry population and the American consumer. Those born between the years 1985-2004 are referred to as Generation Y. These “Millennials” have a “think” mentality and are interconnected with access to — and the mastery of — many “devices.” They are great multi-taskers, are technological geniuses, and function with constant electronic stimuli. This age group is socially inclusive, socially conscious, and supportive of the green movement.

As I watch my high school graduate cross the stage and receive his well-earned diploma today, I will wonder, will he choose to work in the ag industry some day? Will he stay in South Dakota?

If he does, will we be ready for him?

 

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