NFU highlights importance of youth outreach, leadership training for future of American agriculture, world food production
WASHINGTON – On July 1, National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson highlighted the importance of youth outreach, leadership and skills training in production agriculture as key to the future of American agriculture and global food production.
“One of the great challenges facing modern American agriculture is its own demographics,” noted Johnson. “Combine the aging demographics of farmers in the world’s breadbasket nation with the skyrocketing global population and you can quickly see the need for a new generation of farmers and ranchers who are equipped to lead,” he said.
Johnson noted that to that end, NFU has several ongoing programs that reach out to youth in the farm and rural sector and help them hone their leadership skills. “NFU’s nearly 80 year-old All-States Leadership Camp does just that, with many of the participants going on to take the reigns of important farm organizations, both domestically and internationally,” said Johnson.
Johnson pointed out that over the course of its nearly eight decades, more than 6,100 young men and women have received leadership training in these camps. “Many of our campers have gone on to take highly-visible leadership positions in agriculture, including a U.S. senator, the president of a national farm organization, the president of an international farm organization and a director of the nation’s largest farmer-owned supply and marketing cooperative,” he said.
Another area where NFU has helped identify and train the next generation of farmers is its Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI). The Institute, modeled after successful state and regional programs, is open to men and women who are new to farming, are in the process of transferring an operation from a relative or non-relative to themselves, or are seriously contemplating a career in farming or ranching.
“BFI participants receive a year’s worth of hands-on training at little cost to themselves,” noted Johnson. “BFI is unique in that the agenda is driven by the participants, allowing them to gain information on topics that will be most relevant to their particular operations. The size and diversity of the group of participants ensures valuable interaction and learning opportunities for all,” he noted.
Johnson explained that BFI training includes practical skills needed by beginning farmers and ranchers, including business plan writing, financial planning, and researching available programs to help start up and sustain a successful operation. To date, NFU has trained 47 beginning farmers and ranchers, most of whom are now in production agriculture.
Tess Brown-Lavoie of Rhode Island is an urban farmer who was in the inaugural class of the Institute. “The blossoming of agriculture in urban centers represents a burgeoning commitment to many of the values that we all cherish: cooperation, loyalty and hard work,” said Brown-Lavoie. “Farming, whether it takes place in an urban or rural setting, passes those important values on from generation to generation.”
“For America’s farm organizations, there is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach to educating and empowering the next generation of America’s farmers and farm leaders, but clearly the imperative is there and we all have our marching orders,” said Johnson. “Our job is clear: put in place the talent pool that will feed yet unborn generations to come, while protecting and nurturing the land that makes all of that possible.”