I remember the day almost a decade ago that I mistakenly called my (now) 28-year-old daughter a Generation X’er…to which she angrily replied, “I am NOT a Generation X, I am a generation Y2K!” It was my first, eye-opening introduction to the Millennial Generation’s sense of pride and purpose as they look at their future, realize that there is a lot to be done, and that they will be the ones to get the job done.
Fast forward to an inspirational meeting last month in Des Moines, Iowa, with National FFA’s New Century Farmers. Not surprisingly, this was an eye opening introduction to some of the brightest, most focused kids (oops, young adults) that I’ve seen in one room in a long time! It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about the future of agriculture with the very generation that will be running our nation’s farms in the year 2050, when the world population is expected to peak at 9.7 billion.
I recently had the privilege of introducing the New Century Farmers to Solutions From the Land (SFL). Our evening session came on the heels of a long day of experiential learning and challenge. These ag leaders were still going strong when we began our presentation on SFL’s dynamic vision to promote sustainability and natural resource enhancement through land-based solutions at the local and regional level. Over the course of the evening, we discussed the SFL approach of stakeholder partnerships to implementing practical, landscape-scale solutions that address multiple goals. We talked about the need to harmonize the dizzying array of conflicting federal, state and local policies with which producers must often comply. We discussed the potential to create workable markets for the ecosystem services that farmers, ranchers and foresters provide. We highlighted the need to coordinate research and toboth collect and share information with public and private sources.
With support from Farm Foundation NFP and The Nature Conservancy, the SFL report, Developing a New Vision for United States Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation, details an exciting new direction for global agriculture. It begins here in the United States with an alignment of policies and politics at the farm, ranch and forest level. We believe that the capacity and potential to create a thriving system of agricultural abundance will be linked to the on-farm solutions that result when we embrace the sustainable and innovative concepts of food, water and energy synergy. In this 21st century, we will need to manage life systems and resources in ways that deliver increased productivity, ecosystem services and profitability for the farm, ranch and forestry sectors.
The youthful enthusiasm of the New Century Farmers was tempered by the reality of keeping their businesses viable under the onslaught of new rules, regulations and expectations coming from the political/policy worlds of Washington, D.C. and 50 state Capitols. These young farmers acknowledged the difficulties of working in multi-generational family businesses where old concepts conflict with new ideas and estate planning done poorly can undo generations of hard work.
Yet what was inspiring to me was to witness the sense of optimism in the room. These New Century Farmers will be here tomorrow and in the decades ahead with a familiar work ethic and belief in their endeavors to deliver the crop on time and within the parameters of profit, social accountability and environmental responsibility.
These New Century Farmers are staking their claim to be keepers of the farms, forests and ranches—adapting, learning and innovating with new and old solutions from the land. How refreshing and inspiring to know that these young leaders are filling the stewardship ranks of our working landscapes. Keep’em coming, FFA! God knows, we really need them.