LIMA — There are still fathers passing family farms on to their children, but the number of Millennials doing so diminishes over time.
In other cases, the cost of investing in a start-up farm has grown exponentially. The changes make it tougher to attract Millennials into the industry, but clever approaches are filling the positions.
“You don’t see the prodigal son returning to the farm as much anymore,” said Waynesfield-Goshen FFA adviser Rob Schnippel. “Many times you are seeing the family farm in jeopardy.”
Schnippel said individuals are also looking at an excess of $1 million to invest to start a new farm, making it cost prohibitive for many.
“Farmers make up less than 2 percent,” Schnippel said. “That’s 2 percent feeding a lot of people.”
However, he said the technology involved in today’s farming can attract potential employees to the industry.
“Farming is on a whole new level now,” Schnippel said. “A farmer has always worn many hats, but those hats are different now. A farmer requires much more education. Technology is expanding the industry. Farming needs scientists, mechanics, marketers and farm managers. Farming is on a whole new level. There are many things you can do now that are not farming but are connected to the industry.”
Schnippel said it has caused changes in recruiting new employees. Future Farmers of America education in schools has officially changed its name to simply FFA. The organization has also changed its goals to promoting “personal growth and career success leadership in an attempt to get away from the farm stereotype.
“Versions are changing because of the costs of technology today,” said Jill Smith, organization director for the Ohio Farm Bureau: Auglaize, Logan, Mercer, Shelby and Union counties. “Agriculture is now many things.”
Smith said young agricultural professionals taking up the new positions are usually expected now to get a college education in an agricultural field. Others wanting to get into the field are focusing on technology.
“There is more of a focus on technology,” Smith said. “That works well with the Millennials: The use of drones, checking your grain bins with your smartphone, auto-steering on tractors or combines.”
St. Marys FFA teacher Lucy Bambauer said the average age of farmers is 55, an age group not associated with advanced technical skills. However, she said the demographic would change dramatically over the next 20 years.
“FFA membership is at an all-time high nationally,” Bambauer said. “We will continue to push the technology while helping older farmers navigate the technology until they retire.”
Bambauer said many jobs directly connected to the industry, although they are not actually raising crops or livestock. She gave examples of livestock support jobs, veterinarians, quality control workers and mixing at feed stations.
“There is an emphasis with the STEM program for new farmers,” Bambauer said. “The industry now needs engineers. GPS, building chicken barns and harvesting eggs are just some of the things coming into a new light.”
Reach Lance Mihm at 567-242-0409 or on Twitter @LanceMihm