Is The First Generation Farmer a Thing of the Past?

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Over the past couple of days, I have been reading and seeing a bunch of different articles in relation to keeping young farmers on the farm and attracting first generation farmers.

My question? Why is it any different than any other entrepreneurial business. I’m sure that there are tens of thousands of people across Canada that have big ideas that once they are finished with their education, their goal is to start up their own earth moving company, oil company, trucking company, or what ever it may be. The thing about it is these are all high capital ventures. You can’t just walk into the bank and say “hey, I have no money and no backing but I need a couple million to start my business”.

Why is Agriculture any different? It’s almost like because it’s Agriculture, there is a sense of entitlement. You hear a bunch of one liners like:

“Why isn’t the government helping out?”

“FCC won’t give me the money”

“The only way you can do it is if daddy gives it to you”

The sad truth is, unless you have deep pockets, going at it on your own from scratch isn’t going to happen. You don’t hear these statements in other big business. You would get laughed at. Now don’t get me wrong. There are cases where people pay their dues and work hard into their 30’s to save up enough money to start their own farm, but to cry wolf because you want to farm but can’t because there is no one to give you the money is not right.

Farming is risky business as it is and banks want to make sure you are financially stable enough to do it. It’s like high stakes poker. You take all your money (and the banks money) and put a crop in the ground. You hope that pests don’t eat the seed, rain comes at the right time, grasshoppers don’t devour the crop, hail stays away, fall is open to get it harvested, bugs don’t infest your bins and the commodity markets don’t collapse. This on top of all the startup capital it takes to buy tractors, combines, drills, trucks and land.

For those young farmers that grew up on the family farm and want to stay farming, I feel the biggest mistake that they can make is thinking that they are going to make a go of it on their own. Stay where you are. Work hard and show the family that this what you want to do. Learn from the previous generation and work together by sharing ideas collectively. Grow the business together and take calculated risks. These are risks that if you were on your own, you wouldn’t be able to take. Have a plan. While dad may not want to talk much about what succession, it will eventually need to be dealt with. If you put in your time, the end result will probably be one that keeps all generations happy. Remember, in this scenario it’s not me,me,me. It’s we,we,we. You are in it together.

There is no easy way for us young farmers to keep in the game.  We shouldn’t be shutting new farmers out but we also should not be setting them up to fail either.  Take advantage of the opportunities presented to you and lean on the knowledge of others around. Most importantly, remember that being a farmer is a privilege, not a right.

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