Three little boys named Oliver, Noah and Mason play in a vast Australian wheat field. Their eyes radiate a happy childhood. Now and again the children take a break and curiously watch their father and grandfather steer big tractors over the field to inspect the harvest. Very likely, these boys will one day follow in their footsteps and hopefully become part of the next farming generation. It will be important: The average age of farmers in Australia, the EU, Brazil and the US ranges around 50 and older. But due to the world’s expanding but aging population, more farmers will be needed to ensure the food security of almost ten billion people expected by 2050 – new blood is critical.
The boys’ father, Bevan Clarke, is a fourth generation farmer in Bolgart, Western Australia. His goal is to pass on the farm to his children in the most sustainable manner imaginable: “Sustainability to me means having this farm go on forever. For this to come true, I must leave the land in a better condition than it was in when I inherited it.” Clarke would be very pleased if his children took over the family business some day but the 31-year-old farmer also looks at it realistically: “It would be great if my children came back here, but I won’t force them to. It is a job that you have to love. Farming is not for everyone.” Seventh-generation farmer Corbin Schuster from Freeling, South Australia, shares this perception. He also has the impression that a lot of young Australians prefer a city job instead: “People in the cities work from nine to five. Their income is stable. They can go home on the weekends and go out at night.” Compared to a city job, farming is the opposite: “On some days you work sixteen hours, on other days you work less than that. This keeps many young people from wanting to start their own agribusiness,” says Schuster. Yet he also knows exactly what makes it worthwhile to become a farmer anyway: “People always need good food to eat. It is our job to produce the best food we can. And if you work hard and are innovative, you’ll be financially rewarded.”
Next to these essential and economic reasons, intrinsic motivation also plays a role to those that choose the profession: “My passion makes me persevere. I belong to the fourth generation of farmers in this area and it makes me proud and motivated to continue my family business’s success,” says 27-year-old Bartlomiej Banasiak who lives and works with his wife and two children on a 130-hectare-farm in western Poland. Sixth-generation US-farmer Mark Douglas from Champaign County, Illinois feels the same way: “This type of work really strengthens family ties. That’s the biggest reward to me. It’s also very fulfilling to watch Mother Nature develop the crops throughout the year.”
Young Farmers are the Future
Social media allows farmers to connect with 98.5 percent of the U.S. population not on a farm and provide these people with an inside look. Source: USDA, European Parliament
Passion for Farming
On the South American continent, in the Brazilian state of Paraná, young Marcos Montans has been fascinated by farming since his early childhood: “I grew up in the middle of soy. Ever since I can remember I wanted to work on our farm. It has always given me great pleasure to help my father collect the harvest and hopefully, I can pass this passion on to my own son,” says the 28-year old. And back in Europe, German farmer Inka-Donata Müller-Scheeßel, from a farm close to Berlin, is also driven by the same passion: “Working close to nature and with animals has helped me perceive more details and look very holistically at life.” The 35-year-old farmer works together with her parents and 60 employees. “My parents always encouraged me and my siblings to help with the farm work and I’m still thankful for it.”
Passion for Farming
Despite her strong family bonds, Müller-Scheeßel also wanted to broaden her horizon. She left Germany for a while and gained international experience during internships at farms in the US and Canada during her academic studies. In her time abroad, the young woman noticed regional problems in terms of environmental awareness and differences in agricul tural practices: “In the US, I worked at a big pig-fattening farm with a slaughter volume of one million pigs. This is unimaginable in Germany.” Though German agriculture also faces problems related to agriculture, such as the use of antibiotics, Müller-Scheeßel regards some accusations by the public as false and fights against these misconceptions: “Some people accuse us of poisoning the soil with crop protection products. They also make us responsible for bee mortality. I try to counter these prejudices by engaging in dialogue.” As part of her active communication strategy she and other young German-speaking farmers have founded a working group called “Arbeitskreis Junglandwirte” or “Young Farmers Workgroup”. They want to break the negative images in agriculture and encourage both politicians and critics to participate in the discussion: “We often invite people to public places to join us for breakfast and discuss openly. It helps to give agriculture a realistic face,” explains Müller-Scheeßel.
Brazilian farmer Montans has a similar perception about society’s view on Brazilian agriculture: “A lot of people have negative and wrong concepts of our profession because they think we are destroying the environment. In fact, only eight percent of our country’s surface area is used for agriculture. By investing in enhanced seeds and integrated crop solutions, we have managed to break new harvest records without enlarging the agricultural space.” Experts estimate that the harvest in 2015 will be almost four times higher than the year before. Montans thinks traditionalism in Brazilian agriculture might be the reason for this biased attitude: “Our agriculture has a very old-fashioned profile. Especially, us young farmers have to break this negatively connotated image by highlighting our innovative, efficient and therefore environment-friendly farming techniques and competence,” states Montans.
Though my work demands more than a regular eighthour-job, I love it. Every day is different.
United by agriculture passion
Apart from face-to-face dialogue tools, the young farming generation also encounters misconceptions virtually by making active use of social media. Sam Trethewey, a 31-year old MBA student from a multi-generational Australian farming family, encourages young farmers to use social media as a public relations platform: “There are activist groups that heavily confront Australian agriculture in the virtual world. In some cases, even real battles rage online. Social media channels can help the young farming generation to identify and react to accusations. But Australian farmers want people to know that they provide great food.”
Social Media Usage
“So Facebook and Twitter are great tools to counteract some of this negative messaging, such as prejudice against genetically modified food,” adds Trethewey. Over in Southern Australia, his colleague Corbin Schuster also makes use of social media to interact with the broader public. From his perspective, it is important for farmers to be open and transparent: “Consumers have become a lot more aware of where their food comes from,” he says. They want farmers to be food producers but they also want them to manage the land responsibly and look after the immediate environment. “I think we’ve already been successful with our initiatives because people are starting to realize that farming and food production is an essential part of society,” Schuster continues. To him, social media is also a convenient tool to network with other young farmers: “Facebook is becoming a large part of every-day farming life. With it, we can also solve problems revolving around the use of new machinery faster and develop better solutions to improve our farms.”
Another very important networking organization for young farmers in Australia is the Future Farmers Network (FFN). “Australia is an incredibly large country with a very small population and the FFN brings people from different agricultural backgrounds closer together,” explains Trethewey, who is also a board member of the FFN. People from urban cities like Brisbane working in agricultural banking can meet farmers from the countryside and exchange views. “It is important for everyone’s careers to build these contacts throughout various parts of the industry. In this way they can learn more and benefit from each other’s competences,” Tretheway adds.
With Facebook, we can also solve problems revolving around the use of new machinery faster and develop better solutions to improve our farms.
Social Media Activity of Farmers across the Globe
All these efforts are of no use without regard to a further key tool that should be part of every young farmer’s repertoire: education. German farmer Müller-Scheeßel, for example, studied agronomy and then advanced into her PhD studies. During this time, she received valuable impetus: “Looking back, I’m glad to have gained my academic experiences because they gave me a profound insight regarding various aspects of agriculture. For example, I learned more about the effectiveness of vitamins in fodder. This knowledge is very helpful for my daily work.” Although far away, her Australian colleague Schuster sees it similarly: “The next generation of farmers needs to be very knowledgeable. They need more qualifications because there is a lot more technology, involved in farming, such as genetics and automation. It has become necessary for us to be highly specialized.” And farmer Montans in Brazil also bursts of enthusiasm and takes every new challenge as a motivation to learn more: “When I’m confronted by problems they drive me to deepen my knowledge and strengthen my skills to solve them.” Trethewey of the FFN has noticed a strong tie between education and successful farming: “For years, some sons and daughters who have taken over their parents’ farms didn’t place a big emphasis on running a business. The people who have done the best are the ones who understood how a farming operation works. Others have failed and have not been able to recover. Financial literacy and management are going to be one of the most important parts of future farm management.”
Looking ahead, young farmers will become increasingly crucial in securing the global food supply. Despite this responsible task, they’ll have to continue to defend their farming practices vis-à-vis critical voices. Through the use of innovative approaches like social media and public relation initiatives the young farming generation has already created new ways to promote their profession and gain public acceptance. Farming sustainably has become apparent as a core element in gaining the public’s trust. Bevan Clarke: “Young farmers are always concentrating on working sustainably because they want to pass the farm on to the next generation. If we don’t look after our land, our children won’t be able to either. We are intrinsically focused on sustainable practices as are a growing number of consumers in the cities. So actually, we are all on the same page.”