Why agriculture needs to support programs like Ag in the Classroom, sooner rather than later

If there’s one thing the digital world has done it’s make the world a smaller place. Our kids have access to so much information and opportunities, you’ve got to ask – why would they choose a career in agriculture?

I think we, as an industry, have done a poor job of marketing ourselves. Unless you grew up with the smell of fresh summer fallow or morning dew on the crop, farming is not something you dream about doing.

Just scroll through social media and you’ll see the way many young people today view agriculture.

In fact, today’s youth now believe that we are chemical factories and bad for the environment. 

Of course, my kids and their friends know the difference. Growing up on a farm you know that’s not true, but how do we broaden the appeal for a career in ag? How do we reach city kids who struggle to understand where their food comes from?

Where did we go wrong?

I think it’s important for us as an industry to take a hard look in the mirror. The family farm narrative has created the majority of the issues that we now have in human resources and bringing the next generation back to the farms. There is no place for a career unless you have the same last name.

Does my last name have to be Walton to work at Walmart? We already know the answer to this, but the excuse was always because this is a corporation. Then overnight, farm equity became 10X with land value increases, and low and behold we are now all corporations. Even the smallest of family farms is now incorporated, and the zeros behind revenue, equity, and profit are significantly larger than they were a decade ago. Overnight primary producer agriculture became a business, the problem is that nobody told the farmer.

The second issue, I don’t ever remember the human resource course in the agriculture curriculums at university. Ha, because there isn’t one. We’re the only business that is the CEO, the primary operator, and the janitor (and most of the time wear all three hats in the same day). So, how can we expect the family farm to be able to navigate human resources, hiring, retention, and all of those things that come along with creating the next-generation farm? Can we blame kids for not dreaming of being a farm hand (or labourer depending on the state or province you are from)? No, we can’t, because we have not given them a reason to dream. They do not see a career on the farm – benefits, work/life balance, professional development? Nope, they don’t equate those perks with working on a farm. Shame on us. 

How do we fix it?

Let me start by saying, I’m an optimist. I do believe we can fix this, but we need to take the first step. 

At two recent visits to ag colleges, we talked with students about their future plans. One class was precision ag students. The “oh crap” moment was when we realized the majority of the students were already focused on companies called Bayer, BASF, and Corteva. A precision ag class that does not want to work, or even see it possible to make a career, in primary producer agriculture. It was at this moment we realized, getting to the students at this level was too late.

So, how do you reach kids before they dream elsewhere? We need to get into the schools early. This is why our Deep Roots Foundation is supporting Ag in the Classroom’s “Acres for Education”  fundraising campaign that runs until the end of December.

Ag in the Classroom

To be honest, I am surprised at how few primary producers and industry partners are on the donor list. As producers, I think we need to show that we care enough before industry will match us. 

So, what is Ag in the Classroom?

It’s an organization that provides agricultural learning experiences to students from grades K-12. In-school offerings range from class presentations and resources for teachers on topics around where food comes from, world food sustainability, careers and more.  Items as simple as a Seed Kit and other tools can provide guidance to kids on how agriculture impacts their daily lives and why farming is an interesting career to be part of. 

Secondly, the organization offers farm visits and other out-of-school events that connect students to agriculture.  For those farms that have hosted classrooms at the farm, they will tell you how rewarding it is. Even our agriculture tech specialist showed the kids in the boardroom how we can watch the machines as they work from our phones. The new generation is built around iPads and cell phones, not just playing in the dirt. This type of experience is what is needed before they make up their minds about the future. Hopefully, the future is farming and the careers that we can provide.

Let’s put our money where our mouth is

Over the next few months, we’ll be focusing on three initiatives that we believe can bring farming back into the dreams of the next generation.

Donation – money matters, but acres matter more. We like the idea of giving $0.10 per acre rather than set amounts. In today’s economy, acres are something that we currently have an abundance of in agriculture. Plus, it shows government, industry, grower groups, and other networks that primary producers believe this is important. 

We are encouraged to be joined by progressive farms and other champions who also believe in the benefits this program provides. Kudos to the following farms for also supporting this campaign: Aberhart Farms, Lindgren Farms, McArthur Ag Ventures, Richards Farms, Andjelic Land, Aime Family Farms, Resilire Ag and KF Kambeitz Farms.

Champion your local school 

We are working with our local school in Moosomin to make sure that class visits are happening, even if that means helping out with transportation. I think as primary producers we should be getting in touch and championing this program, encouraging farm tours and visits. 

One program that has taken this concept to the next level is Alberta’s Irvine Agricultural Discovery Centre. A local farmer, Nichole Neubauer, championed the idea and worked closely with the Prairie Rose School Division. Rather than bringing kids to the farm, they brought the farm to school! Next door to Irvine School is a working farm where students participate in everything from growing crops, raising livestock, farm finance and participate in co-ops with local ag businesses. 

We’re not there yet…but maybe one day we could be.

When schools call and want to tour your operation, I encourage you to open the doors and teach both students and academia why agriculture is one of the best industries to work in (and why we are the first stewards of the environment).

Urban schools can benefit the most 

In rural Saskatchewan, our kids have ample opportunities to visit and understand life on a farm, but city kids don’t. Instead of just shrugging our shoulders and getting frustrated with their lack of understanding, we’ve decided to partner with an urban school too. The consulting arm of our business is in Saskatoon so we’re connecting with an urban school in the city. We need to get in front of the next generation of urban students and show them how we live and breathe sustainability. Bring them out to the farm; trust me, they have never seen a combine, and this will have a larger impact than just rural.

How you can get involved

Together, I believe we can make a huge impact.  We make up 30,000 acres out of 60,000,000+ in Saskatchewan (150,000,000+ in Canada), and one school in both rural and urban areas. But we do realize the impact that human resources are having on our farm and those farms that we work with.

It is easy to be an arm-chair quarterback and blame the government, millennials or the next generation coming, or whoever else you think is causing this problem. As we say at HGV, the easiest thing to do is pick up a shovel and do it yourself. After all, we are farmers, and we know how to work.

If you want to donate, please visit the Acres for Education campaign site.