Young Farmers: What Do They Really Want?

I was recently flipping through “Fast Company,” one of my favourite business magazines. An article caught my eye describing “Millennials.” You know, those people in the workforce who were born after 1978. There were several insights about what made millennials tick. Naturally, I extrapolated what these young farmers might want to see happen on the farm. I also had the privilege of meeting an energetic group of the Alberta Young Farmers’ forum, people who are young, and positive about their future in agriculture.

What do young farmers want? 

Here’s a list of what a young farmer might like to tell us older folks:

They want to be heard

Young farmers 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 incorporate that discussion in your farm business meeting. You are having regular farm business meetings, aren’t you?

On that note, be sure to check out this post where I discuss who needs to have a voice at family meetings. 

They want 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 the 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, and don’t want to depart to the big city.

Young farmers want to use their heads more than their backs

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 the ag. software or the iPhone 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!

They want 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 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 labour as a tough issue.” They’ve found that the quality of life argument wins over the high stakes single lifestyle of the oil patch.

Young farmers want the freedom and independence of farming

Young farmers are committed to making it work, but not necessarily in the same way as seasoned farmers.

Many of the 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 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.

They want 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 in their own farm businesses. 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 communication without leaving the farm.

For more on rejuvenating the roles of women in agriculture, click here.

They want 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.

They want it done…just good enough.

Multi-tasking…listening to their favourite tunes while emailing, and playing games 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…well, is it?

Wanting few hassles…millennials can’t take difficult feedback…any negative comments may be hard to take 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 tone of voice, and ensure that he is receiving the message!”

They want to know what’s going on

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 which is a great model to inspire your entrepreneurship on the farm?

Young farmers want to stay wired

Communication with other groups like the kids from colleges and universities that were part of the advocacy group, or social events…keeping in touch by email and phone to network new possibilities. Joining the Canadian Young Farmers’s forum at

Learning about the international policy that affects the future, and gleaning new perspectives is essential. 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.

Would you like more help securing your farming relationships and handling generational transfers? Contact me today to learn about my farm succession planning and farm family coaching!

If you enjoyed this article and you’d like to dive deeper, don’t miss these posts:

My 9 Top Tips for Loving a Farmer

Keeping Farm Transitions Fair

Letting Go of the Proverbial Carrot: 8 Ways to Move Towards Your Succession Plan

This post was originally published on September 25, 2010, and has been republished. 

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