Do you know what millennial farmers really want?
I recently had the privilege of meeting a group of the Alberta Young Farmers.They were young, energetic and positive about their future in agriculture.
Here are ten things I learned from them about what millennial farmers want in life.
To be heard.
Millennials have ideas and opinions.
Respect their need to feel 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, so he can leave a 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 while they 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 and auto-steer, and helping figure out the GPS.
They have no problem using Ag software to track records. So, 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!
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To have a life.
“Money is highly overrated,” 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 even refuse to work full-time.
Some farms are designing shift work modeled after other industry sectors to ensure 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.
Millenials are committed to making the farm work, but not necessarily in the same way.
Many millennials will have an off-farm income stream to offset 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 to create a larger dairy farm, with two unrelated families in 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 millennial farmers can’t be off the farm for four days of meetings. 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 is 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; they listen to their favorite tunes while emailing, playing a game, and doing a business plan.
Maybe some of the millennial 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 may struggle to 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, especially on the farm. So why do some of 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 tone of voice 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 for a cultural snapshot of what is happening in our world.
To stay wired.
Millennial farmers want to stay connected and communicate with others who are in their social group.
Keeping in touch by email and phone allow for great opportunities to network and acquire new possibilities.
As you can see, millennial farmers want a lot out of life. You might notice that many of the things millennial farmers want aren’t too different from what you or I or other generations might want, either.
Finding that common ground is a great building block for successful relationships.
This article was originally published on March 21, 2017, and has been updated.
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