Agriculture seems to be struggling. Every day we hear of another farm closing its doors, milking its last cow, and selling off the last of the equipment. Yet over 730,000 youth are participating in the National FFA Organization (what used to be known as the Future Farmers of America) right now, with an additional 6 million youth joining county 4-H clubs. So many students are headed into the field of agriculture because in reality, the future of agriculture is full of potential.
The number of farmers may be decreasing, but the number of agriculture-related careers is increasing. The promise of biotechnology, unmanned drone technology, advancements in agricultural practices and equipment, among other hot topics is leading thousands of youth to the field.
I admire the millions of young people who participate in an agriculture-focused education, knowing that the industries are rapidly changing with innovation and possibility.
Agriculture careers are no longer just the farmer, there are thousands of other positions available in the supporting industries. Today’s popular interests of our youth, mainly technology, will be a critical component to the future of agriculture, and we will rely on their minds to drive the advancement of agriculture. It is inspiring to know that there are still a large number of children and young adults who are willing to work the long hours and hard days that agricultural careers require in order to reap the rewards that it can provide.
Related: Guide to U.S. agricultural colleges
To the FFA and 4-H members reading this, know that I am incredibly proud of you. I know how hard it’s going to be, dreaming of a life that seems so far off or nearly impossible. However, I have no doubt that you can do it, despite the many obstacles you will face.
Agriculture needs you; the industry needs your fresh ideas, but more importantly it needs your passion. You will be the leaders of the future, feeding the world every single day. Roughly 40,000 of you will go on to graduate with agriculture-focused degrees and participate in a multitude of agricultural industry segments. Approximately 20,000 of you will join the workforce every year in some type of farm-related career, encompassing everything from farmers to ag teachers, from retail salespeople to freight haulers.
Not only does the future look bright because of people like you, but you may not even realize yet just how much ag-youth programs like FFA and 4-H will shape you well into adulthood. Did you grow up on a farm? Maybe you didn’t, but you’re learning all about the qualities it takes to be one.
But it’s more than that. It’s leadership, public speaking, showmanship, competition, scholarships, belonging. It’s pride, dedication, and hard work led by rural America. You’re learning skills from people who’ve seen the successes and pitfalls through multiple generations of farming and the evolution on how this is the greatest industry — “you love it and it’s in your blood” — that you may ever know. Maybe you’re even a multiple generation farmer who has seen how far this industry has come.
Someday, you might have a family of your own. And someday, you can write the same letter to your grandkids about family — legacy, history, faith, and “how it was when you were a kid” around agriculture. No doubt we can only go up from here, and you get to be a part of a noble sector of occupation — feeding the world!
Program workshops and major events like the National FFA Convention offer many lifelong memories to shape you into a fine candidate of society. I applaud you for wanting to be apart of the less than 2 percent of the U.S. population involved in agriculture, and we all can’t wait to see where you go from here.
Michelle Miller, the Farm Babe, is a farmer, public speaker and writer who has worked for years with row crops, beef cattle, and sheep. She believes education is key in bridging the gap between farmers and consumers.