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Youth in Agriculture

This past week the main theme of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup was “The Next Generation.” While there were numerous other topics discussed, youth in Wyoming agriculture was front and center.  
While the keeping youth in Wyoming agriculture was the headlining subject, I sensed the underlying thought was “Who will feed America in the future?” The answer is pretty simple – it has to be our youth, there is no other answer.
After World War II, Wyoming’s youth did come back to or stay in agriculture, and they were very productive, but they proved to not be as good at handing the reins over to the next generation. The baby-boomers were not fault-free, either. I don’t think we can, or should, point fingers and blame people for that – it’s just the way we are. Some families have been great planners and their generational succession has operated smoothly, while others have passed on without so much as a will.  
Working in agriculture has never been easy. Some say people have to have been brought up in ag to want to do it, and for the most part that is most likely true, but it is not the rule. It does take an independent mind, self discipline, stubbornness and all of the other traits that make us believe that we’ll never die and nobody can do the job as well as we can. Because of that, the deck is stacked against youth in most cases. Couple that with an estate tax and a government that complicates the issue and we have a real problem. The most positive aspect of this whole issue is that our youth want to stay in agriculture and, believe me, today’s youth are the smartest ever associated with agriculture.
The old saying says that one has to be “work brittle” to succeed in ranching and farming proves true. In today’s world the small rural communities in our farming and ranching states are dying, and the number of young adults leaving from the farms, ranches and communities is large and growing. Who will feed America? Even with the modern technology around today, someone still needs to operate and manage it.  
Hats off to the Wyoming Stock Growers and the Stock Growers Land Trust for bringing the issue to the front, and to the other Wyoming ag organizations who are also discussing the issue and providing programs for Wyoming’s young producers.
While attending the Stock Growers convention we witnessed record crowds and standing room only events, and young producers were a major part of that.
The Wyoming Stock Growers Agricultural Land Trust just turned 10 years old, and it has developed a steering committee to study the feasibility of developing a ranchland succession program. How do we match up the young people who don’t have land and livestock, but who do have the desire to ranch or farm, with the elderly producers who have the livestock and land and want to get away from the daily grind? What are the buckets of tools that both parties can use, and what are the steps to becoming compatible?
We have to do something to save the rural America that will feed the rest of America in the future.
Dennis