Modern cattle producers need to think creatively, get involved politically
September 15, 2016
A national agricultural leader told a group of ranchers in Billings that the next generation of farmers and ranchers will be the "greatest that ever farmed."
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said. "I tell you the truth when I say, 'the greatest generation of agriculture is ahead of us.'"
Duvall wrapped up the "Next Generation of Producers and Consumers" panel at the 2016 Cattle Producer's Forum saying she is optimistic about the success of tomorrow's producers.
With input from David Cooper, editor of Progressive Cattleman, and young rancher Amanda Radke, the panel covered key factors in ensuring the success of the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
Radke started ranching at a young age. She and her husband have experienced the common struggles that a young producer may often face in today's agricultural industry. She breaks down the guiding principles that they have established into six categories: discipline, 'out of the box' thinking, patience, communication and networking.
"A piece of advice that we got was 'live like no one else does now, so that you can live like no one else does later,'" Radke said.
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Establishing a tight budget and sticking to it, regardless of what the market may be doing, is an important practice for young producers. Considering the volatility of agricultural markets, a young producer should be financially prepared for a low market at any given time.
"Measured discipline is important in starting any business," Cooper added. "Even when times are good, you should still limit how far you push your business and expenditures."
With that same mindset, young producers should also consider alternative sources of income. This is where that 'out of the box' thinking becomes very important. According to Radke, seventy percent of farms rely on off-farm income of some sort.
"Instead of dividing the income when you return to the operation, figure out how you can add, expand and bring new wealth to the operation," Radke said.
With the rising cost of production, additional income may be necessary in order to make ends meet. Diversifying sources of income will also make certain that, even in a tough market, the producer will still be generating revenue elsewhere.
"Diversifying is something we all have to learn to do. It's key in any operation. Keep seeking out new ways to diversify," Duvall said.
Another characteristic that anyone in the agricultural industry must possess is patience. With the ever changing market, it could be easy to get discouraged and quit. However the market is just that – ever changing. As quickly as it goes down, it can also come back up.
"This industry is a roller coaster and right now we are in a down market. It's going to come back, it's going to be there," Duvall said.
Regardless, agriculturalists still need to join together and take control of what is happening within their industry. The consumer, who is disconnected from agriculture as a whole, has a huge input on the market. It is the responsibility of the producer to promote the truth and protect their reputation.
"We face a huge challenge as far as public perception goes," Duvall said. "I'm concerned about our consumer who is being misled by social media. The myths that they believe are horrible."
Through effective communication, this information void can be filled with the truth. As technology continues to advance, consumers rely on the internet and social media to get their information. Young producers need to have a strong online presence and voice that the public can trust and believe.
"The next generation will be the ones responsible for building the harmony between producers and consumers," Cooper said.
As challenges facing producers continue to grow, young people need to get out and join forces to protect their industry. Beyond public perception, the industry faces opposition and regulations from the government that continue making it more difficult to prosper in this industry. Through effective networking, though, farmers and ranchers can take a stand against it.
"If we don't learn to join hands and fight as one industry, we are going to loose," Duvall said.
It's more important than ever to get off the farm or ranch and spend time learning about what the industry is facing and have a say in the upcoming regulations.
"It's your responsibility to get out and be part of that process. You have to come out of your fence rows and not only join your commodity's organizations but general ag groups, like Farm Bureau, and we will fight this battle together," Duvall said.
Events such as the Cattle Producer's Forum are a great place to start the discussion on areas of our industry that are struggling to sustain without the producer's input. Duvall encouraged the room full of cattleman to keep attending those type of events, but every time they do, bring a young person with them because they need to start becoming a part of that network.
"The best thing we can do as leaders is prepare the groundwork for future generations to keep producing," Duvall said. "I want to make sure that I do everything in my power to allow my sons, and generations to come, to do this too."