Skills future farmers need to run their family’s businesses go beyond agriculture.
It’s the stereotypical story of an American farmer: Work long hours growing up, graduate high school and take over the family ranch.
But changing technology and complex business models are shifting that philosophy, sending future agriculturalists to college before returning home to the farm.
“The world markets we’re facing — it’s not a matter of raising a few eggs and butchering a hog once in a while and selling it in the local community,” said Dave Baker, a farm transition specialist at the Iowa State University Beginning Farmer Center. “Just about anything produced today can be shipped all over the world.”
Baker helps families hand down their farms from one generation to another as part of Iowa State’s outreach program. He said he encourages retiring farmers to think of their children as “business partners” that bring added value to the trade. Often, that value comes from attending college and learning more than practical experience growing up.
“Before we started this country, much of the education on trade was obtained through apprenticeships, but I don’t see us going back to that where we have farm apprentices,” Baker said. “The business has changed so much that really wouldn’t work.”
But skills future farmers need to run their family’s businesses go beyond agriculture, Baker said. They need to study management, marketing and economics to keep up with larger businesses who are competing in the global marketplace.
These classes give Michael Baird — a senior majoring in horticulture production and agricultural business management at Purdue Univeristy — appreciation for work he did growing up on his family’s agrotourism farm. Baird would spend hours helping his parents run a corn maze and pumpkin patch that aimed to encourage agricultural literacy.
Baird plans to go back and run the farm one day, but he and his parents agree it’s important for him to gain outside experience first.
“A lot of kids are going away to college now and, in my experience, a lot of parents are really encouraging it because they can see the added value in going to college before going back to the farm,” Baird said.
There are three skills Baird has learned in college that he said will help him when he returns to the farm: leadership, business and networking.
“When you go to college, it just kind of furthers, it more intensely develops those skills,” he said. “You go more in depth and you learn the real importance of all those things you took for granted before.”
Fellow Purdue senior Jackson Troxel said he is seeing more students like Baird whose parents encourage development more than just practical experience. After growing up and focusing on “nothing but sports,” the agricultural economics student said he decided he wanted to follow his parents in the dairy-farming industry, but realized he would need a more diverse background.
Though he wasn’t sure why he wanted to go to college when he first applied for scholarships, Troxel now says the idea of passing up on his university education is “laughable.”
“You need to be up-to-date and know how the industry’s changing and how to adapt,” he said. “And I feel like nowadays people going straight back to the farm are just a minority.”
Troxel compares his reasoning for going to college to study agriculture as similar to any other profession — if you want to be the best in your field, you need to study.
“Why would agriculture be different? Why would a business like a family farm be different than any other business?” he asked. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s kind of in your blood.”
Powered by Facebook Comments