Farm Management Minute: Are you an emerging leader, or can you nurture one?

Will Walte
Instructor, SD Center for Farm/Ranch Management

This winter, our staff conducted two financial training sessions for beginning farmers. One was our five session Level One educational program on site at MTI and also via the internet. Just last week we presented a condensed financial management seminar specifically targeting next generation farmers at the S.D. Wheatgrowers headquarters in Aberdeen. The basics of Ag financing opportunities, risk management, flex leasing scenarios, recordkeeping and financial analysis were presented and discussed. It is exciting to see a new generation of agricultural producers exhibiting the ambition, faith and fortitude to embrace the challenge of feeding the world’s population! The latest info states that the average age of South Dakot farmers is 57. I’ve heard that number for multiple years; I would think it is getting higher. There will be a huge void to fill in the number of active producers in the next 10-20 years. If a young farmer is fortunate enough to have a parent or mentor to assist them getting started, the senior partner likely has the experience of surviving the 1980’s financial crisis, low commodity prices, drought and/or excessive moisture growing seasons, along with media and political issues affecting their profits. In contrast, the younger participant has been a witness to the recent years high yields, high prices and technology improvements but is faced with unprecedented high input costs largely attributed to land values. The passing of the baton to another generation is not a new thing to any form of small business, it just seems as though now so much more capital is required. My wife and I began farming and operating a specialized swine operation shortly after the farm crisis with two off farm jobs. My father, aunt and uncle, two brothers and a neighbor helped us get started. I’m sure many operations have a similar beginning. The selflessness of established operators and exiting owners is needed more than ever for this generation of emerging leaders in agriculture. They are not entitled to anything nor do they expect such, but simply working hard and being diversified aren’t the only answers anymore. Specialized custom work for other operations seems to be one “mortgage lifter” vs. the small poultry, dairy, and swine herds of yesteryear. Some form of enhancing income from each acre is necessary more than ever. They may do a few things “wrong” and develop good hindsight. Sound familiar?

To existing owners and operators, if you were able to plant a tree many years ago and were given the opportunity to care for it, hopefully you have seen it grow and bear fruit. The next generation of farmers just needs the piece of ground for a similar chance. They are armed and ready with the same enthusiasm you possessed. Remember the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is today! You can contact the S.D. Center for Farm/Ranch Management at, or call 1-800-684-1969. Seriously, I need to hand plant some trees that didn’t make it in my own shelterbelts. Another article.