COLUMBUS — Next-generation farmers and ranchers have an abundance of opportunity to enter the agriculture industry, according to panelists who discussed various agricultural topics on the Columbus Convention Center stage.
Educating the new generation is important, emphasized Ohio Farm Bureau member Jacob Hoelscher of Darke County, who grew up on a large cow-dairy farm. He says that over the next five years, roughly 90 million acres will be passed on to a new owner. Of those acres, about 21 million acres will go to a non-relative.
Next generation acreages was one of several themes which stemmed from the Ohio Farm Bureau’s (OFBF) 2018 Discussion Meet preliminary competition, including online databases, financial programs, buying power and networking. The event was part of the OFBF 99th Annual Meeting Dec. 6.
Hoelscher was one of four finalists chosen to compete in the state finals in Columbus Feb. 2-3 as part of the Winter Leadership Experience, along with three other finalists: Casey Ellington, Stark County; Seth Middleton, Shelby County; and Annie Specht, Tuscarawas County. The finalists were chosen based on subject knowledge, problem solving abilities and personal and small group communications skills.
During the meet the finalists discussed two main topics. The first was: Farmers are a shrinking percentage of the population, and how can the Farm Bureau help first-generation farmers and ranchers get started in agriculture?
Obtaining operating money is a difficult task for farmers who do not have a large asset base or mentorships, according to finalist Seth Middleton of Shelby County, who runs a 500-acre corn and soybean farm.
He emphasized that networking will be important to this process and as an agricultural lender at Heartland Bank, he says there are plenty of federal programs for young struggling farmers. The younger generation just needs to be educated about them and “Farm Bureau has the opportunity to educate.”
The average age of the current American farmer is 58, according to finalist Casey Ellington of Stark County who raises livestock with her husband at Ellington Farms. As a young YAP and Farm Bureau member herself, she emphasized bridging the gap between the different age groups.
“We need to do a better job facilitating and inviting people who maybe don’t have a direct connection to farming but have an interest,” said Ellington.
Bridging that gap in a data-driven age calls for a centralized database, according to Hoelscher, who claims there is currently a lack of data available to farmers.
“As members of the Farm Bureau, it’s up to us to lobby for the future of agriculture,” said Hoelscher. “And if it takes an actual database to help those first generation farmers get their start or help a young farmer in general, it is imperative for us to do that.”
The finalists also discussed the topic of Farm Bureau establishing outreach programs and apprenticeships for first generation farmers and even those at the high school level. These programs could help develop opportunities to network and learn from seasoned farmers.
The second topic was: How can farmers and ranchers maintain their buying power with the continued trend of input supplier and provider consolidations?
“In the last three years, six companies that controlled the vast majority of seed and agri-chemical inputs in the US have planned or undergone mergers and buy-outs,” said finalist Annie Specht of Tuscarawas County, an assistant professor of agricultural communication at Ohio State University.
She says that these mergers could lead to cost increases. Specht suggests that farmers and ranchers can maintain their buying power by increasing their negotiation skills at the individual level, taking part in cooperatives and collective agreements.
Middleton suggests that one of the underlying issues is government regulations have created some of the conflicts farmers are currently facing. “We need to be well-versed to create opportunities to make the public, congress members and senate aware of what’s going on,” said Middleton.
Farmers bringing new ideas to the table can be cost prohibitive, according to Middletown, and he explains how it can take many years for something to pass through government regulations. He posed the question: How do we keep this process less involved to give the smaller companies the opportunity to bring forth new ideas in a cost-effective manner?
Relationships with regulators and sales representatives are crucial, says Ellington, who worked with end users on how to save money as a price negotiator. She suggests farmers and ranchers negotiate a better price and take advantage of early buys.
According to Hoelscher, an underlying problem is that a few large companies can dictate the price. Therefore, farmers need to think outside the box and find ways to create new opportunities of where farmers can buy supplies.
Specht concluded that if farmers come together, they can leverage more power.
What’s next for the finalists?
The fours finalists will compete in the state finals in Columbus Feb. 2 as part of the YAP Winter Leadership Experience at the Hyatt Regency in Columbus. The winner receives a $1,000 cash award from Nationwide Insurance, an expense-paid trip to the 2018 OFBF Annual Meeting Dec. 5-7 in Columbus and an expense-paid trip to the AFBF Annual Convention in January 2019 in New Orleans.
“The Discussion Meet contest is a meaningful opportunity for young ag professionals to strengthen their skills in working together to solve issues facing agriculture today. I look forward to watching these finalists compete at the finals in February,” said OFBF Young Agricultural Professionals Coordinator Melinda Witten
The Discussion Meet is hosted by OFBF’s Young Agricultural Professionals — singles and married couples ages 18 to 35 who are interested in improving the business of agriculture, learning new ideas and developing leadership skills. Learn more about the Young Ag Professionals program at experienceyap.com.