A lot of people say they like farm and ranch living because it is a great environment for raising children. They learn all about nature, responsibility and consequences. Make sure they also learn about the business.
As the youngest animals in your herd have the most potential for excellence, the next generation of producers has much more. There are even some ideas common to growth and development of both species.
You want to give them every opportunity to succeed, but don't spoil them and make sure they can function in the real-world economic environment. Don't lose track of them at seven months or 18 years, but maintain an active interest and keep communication lines open. Of course, that's more important with humans — you need to include young people in your planning process.
Give them tradition, but don't have it bind them or blind them from their natural advantage of being the “high-tech” generation. To make it in modern beef production, ideas of cowboy freedom must give way to producer cooperation. The future is interdependent and offers opportunity for start-ups. Especially for those who have experience working for somebody else.
We sometimes get caught up in the struggle to make ends meet and warn a son or daughter away from being a producer. That may be carrying advice too far. We can't afford the brain drain of continually discouraging our best and brightest.
If they want to, and have the ability, help them look for opportunities. The modern beef industry with its networking and growing vertical cooperation offers many doors that weren't available a generation ago. But ranching isn't something you just fall back on these days.
It may be best for every potential beef producer to earn a paycheck somewhere else for a few years, but it should not close doors to ranching later. Young people must learn what it means to be part of a team with a job to do. If they are to take up ranching on their own or with family, they must know what they're missing, if anything, and have that work history as something to fall back on.
The current generation may be expected to make room for the young ones, but you can't afford to be too liberal. Look for opportunity but be wary of too much risk. Remain open to the options of formal and long-term partnership or spin-off partnership. But don't jeopardize your own financial stability to give them a start, or everybody will lose.
See what a generation of new ideas can do. Capitalize on the natural energy and curiosity of youth by forging ties with Extension research. As the focus shifts from linear to system-oriented research, every cooperating ranch manager will discover how best to fit into the evolving networks.
In analyzing why young people leave agriculture, we often hear about “more lucrative opportunities in cities” and the deterioration of culture and community to where there is “nothing to do.”
That depends on the individual, of course, and it is changing with communication technology. A million people in the cities would give anything for the opportunity to try their hand at ranching. Most of them would be at a huge disadvantage compared to a generation raised out there, but some do trade places every year.
FFA and 4-H organizations help young people explore their vocations. Everyone knows of leaders and officers who do not become “Future Farmers,” but invariably our society is richer for their contributions that are usually agriculture-related. Urban youth who want to get their boots dirty find opportunities in those organizations, and some even pursue ranch apprenticeships.
If there is no younger generation in your family, or they are not interested in ranching, why not be a mentor to help other youngsters get started? The industry needs a steady influx of people with integrity, who care about producing food for consumers. Sometimes a family tradition is better left in the hands of young friends that you can help train.
Whether family or new friend, keep in mind we all know something, though sometimes not yet as much as we think we do. There is and will always be a lot to learn, even as we teach.
Steve Suther is director of industry information for the Certified Angus Beef Program. e-mail: [email protected].