Agriculture is a machine in constant need of new parts. Its oil needs changing every few years. Its chains are working but worn. Its bearings could stand to be repacked. It’s an industry that needs to be as sharp as it can be. And it’s an industry that is only as strong as the people working in it.
It’s tacitly understood that truly young farmers (I say “truly’” young because I’m technically a young farmer and I’m 38) don’t have time to get involved and join committees and/or boards. This limits the pool to those who are established enough to have staff and to those who are either fully or nearly retired.
I have heard the topic of how to get young people involved in the ag industry discussed more times than I can remember. I’ve participated in these discussions. I’ve even attempted to contribute to a few of them in a meaningful way. But I don’t have the answers.
Hey. Maybe I’ll write about it in Grainews and spur people into action that way. So, I did exactly that. But, perhaps I did it wrong. Perhaps it’s not a call to action that you need. No. Maybe you need something else, entirely.
When I first began working in the commodity group world, I remember visiting a friend who also worked in the industry. He gave me a tour of his office and showed me the boardroom. It was huge. And if I remember correctly, on the table in front of every chair was a mic hanging over the button to activate it.
“Do you ever speak up at meetings?” I asked.
It was spring of 2016 and his answer blew my mind. I couldn’t imagine being in a position where, a: I’d have something worthwhile to say to a room full of people; and b: I’d have the nerve to say it. Writing to a large audience registers as different to me, apparently.
Fast-forward to winter of 2018 and I have to chuckle at my former self. I have done that and will do that again. I don’t know exactly when and how it happened. But it did. I began to engage and somewhere along the line doing so started to get easier.
Everyone has something to add
I think the answers to most challenges are best found dredging the bed of human experience. I’ve learned to be a person in this world, despite the muck. So have you. So has everyone.
The people who speak up and lead are not who you think they are. They are not smarter than you. They are not better than you. And they do not have the Midas touch. The difference between the person who pushes the button and speaks into the mic and the person who doesn’t is that one person pushed the button and said what was on his or her mind and the other did not. It’s that simple.
Everyone struggles to push the button for the first time. Everyone had to rise above some human flaw to speak up. Everyone has at some point opened their mouth and said something wrong or laughable. It’s hard at first. But then it’s easier.
In boardrooms the country over, people are dreaming up ways to get you involved in their organizations. They know you have something valuable to say and they’re worried about what the ag sector will look like 10, 20, 40 years from now if you don’t say it.
Whether it has new parts or not, the machine that is the ag sector keeps working in the background. How well it works and with what kind of parts is largely up to you. I hope I’m eventually displaced by a younger, engaged generation willing to push the button.
Get involved. It’s important that you do. You’ll change the industry — not because you’re especially brilliant but because you’ve had a few ideas and experiences that I guarantee nobody else has had. It’s the note you make to yourself at 3 a.m. that could transform the sector.
Most of the more significant things that have happened in my life can be traced back to something that initially seemed silly or inconsequential. The thing that could finally bridge the urban-rural divide or open up new markets may be yours to contribute.