While there’s no doubt food production and ranching are essential to human existence, the agricultural industry faces a recruiting challenge. As baby boomers look toward retirement and millennials take their places in the workforce, leaders in agriculture must learn how to entice these young people who will be critical to propelling the future of farming and ranching.
Production agriculture of any type is arduous. It is often seven days a week and 12-plus hours a day. Seasoned ranchers remember their parents working day and night to make ends meet. Working in deep mud caused by the rains and managing giant cracks in the dry black dirt from months of extreme drought gave these men and women a great appreciation for hard work. And while millennials are a generation that embraces hard work, they’re eager to do it on their own terms. Millennials yearn for flexible hours and a strong work/life balance. It’s a mindset that doesn’t mix with the consistent demands of ranching and farming.
However, there are elements of agriculture that dovetail perfectly with the millennial mindset. They are, on the whole, a generation that values purpose, demanding fulfillment from their work and desiring to make a measurable contribution to society. Agriculture, especially beef production, offers millennials just that. The work is rich with purpose, responsibility and innovative thinking, and the results are tangible: Imagine the sun setting on a freshly-plowed field or on the harvest of a good crop. Or, improving the quality of life of the cattle and putting all-natural, humanely processed beef on local tables. Young people yearn to contribute to such success and, with a heightened awareness of “giving back,” this aspect of ranching can be particularly inspiring for younger generations.
Millennials also place a high value on variety. The average millennial will have four jobs by the time he or she reaches the age of 30. To attract and retain young people, organizations must embrace this drive and provide opportunities for employees to explore variety. Ranching provides an ideal environment to do so—from planting and harvesting crops, to developing new processes for ranching operations, to managing the sale of produce and meat to local and national markets.
Like millennials, who have become staunch advocates of our environment and protectors of our natural resources, ranchers and farmers are pragmatic and idealistic. They understand they depend on our natural resources for their livelihood. Perhaps, with the shared passion for the land and its offerings, millennials and their predecessors can work together to innovate new practices that enable the younger generation to fully embrace agriculture. With new technology influencing machinery, nutritional development and cattle well-being to elevate ranching practices, millennials fill a need that will dramatically influence agriculture production.
In fact, the industry’s future will be determined by millennials’ interest in contributing modern skill sets to continue ushering the industry into our automated, connected society. When CEOs understand the value added by a younger generation, and work with their millennial employees to shape a job that is both valuable to the industry and personally rewarding for the team members, they will finally be ready to surpass competitors and move to the forefront of the industry.
As agricultural expertise has been passed down for centuries from generation to generation, it is now paramount to recruit our younger workforce to take up the mantle, and we can do this by demonstrating how closely agriculture aligns with millennial values, and offering them the responsibility to enhance and innovate where they see opportunities. After all, the agricultural life is one of great responsibility, risk and challenge, and fulfillment beyond measure.
Bob McClaren is President and CEO of 44 Farms, a Cameron, Texas-based ranching company that provides Black Angus cattle genetics and steaks. He has an accounting degree, a JD and was corporate general counsel for Drayton McLane, former owner of the Houston Astros. After serving as President of the Astros for 10 years, Bob returned to his ranching roots at 44 Farms in 2003.