Christina Crowley, an Ontario Agricultural College student, won the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture senior division competition with the following speech. Congratulations, Christina!
The Next Generation: Youth in Agriculture
The statistics are scary and the headlines are even more discouraging in an industry that needs sustainability to meet the pressing demands of future markets. “Youth being driven out of Agriculture” with 35% of farmers under the age of 35 on the decline and the average age of a farmer increasing to 53 year of age. These facts are the cold hard truth that has many people questioning whether the future of agriculture is in good hands with our youth.
But instead of looking at this situation from a negative perspective, I am here today to look at the opportunities for our youth in agriculture and why youth are here to stay for many generations.
Honourable Judges, Fellow Contestants, Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls:
We realize now days that farming is not the same as it was 30, 20, even 10 years ago. And with the change of an industry comes the change of views in which agriculture is perceived. And this perception is now a way in which our youth view our industry. Why would youth want to enter into a lifestyle when all they hear about is how people foresee a troublesome future in our industry Because of our youth’s PASSION!
Passion has driven our youth of today to truly love the industry they are in. This can be attributed to learning new skills by participating in youth programs across Canada. Namely, popular programs such as 4-H, Junior Farmers, Ambassador of the Fairs, and Future Farmers are all programs that entice youth to get involved and make a difference while attaining life skills that will stay with them forever.
4-H is notably recognized for delivering quality, innovative and sustainable leadership and life skill programs which will benefit the citizens and communities these members live in. I for example, have reaped the benefits of these various youth programs which has ignited a passion in me for agriculture which stems back to my early days in 4-H, helping out on my family’s dairy operation followed by my endeavours as CNE Ambassador of the Fairs in 2005. These programs not only allowed me to continue to express my interest for agriculture but helped me make a difference by bridging the gap between rural and urban communities while also developing skills in me that I have been able to apply outside of these programs.
With an increased membership in Canadian 4-H, 29,901 youth now participate in over 2,600 4-H clubs. And that number is only increasing! I cannot say enough about these development programs. I believe that these programs have helped grow a very motivated group of youth that will lead our industry into the future. In fact, in 1996, 4-H Canada studied the impact that its program had on past members. The results showed that 4-H Canada enhanced the employment and education prospects of its alumni and gave youth interested in agriculture a solid background in the field.
Another valuable asset that these programs offer is the chance to realize that youth have so many opportunities in the agri-industry besides traditional farming. As the agriculture sector grows and diversifies, so do the careers that support it. The industry must look at potential in rural services such as agritourism, transportation, food processing, marketing and of course buying local. With this in mind, youth are motivated to stay in an industry where it is a lifestyle.
Dann Brady, a close agricultural friend of mine and a proud product of the 4-H program, once told me that "the goal in every youth’s life should be to find a job that doesn’t feel like a job, rather it’s a lifestyle. And what a perfect way to do so by joining the ag- industry."
Now, we have to recognize that obstacles will be faced by our up and coming youth. Problems, that stem from the fact that people doubt the future of our industry. The negative media coverage that can downplay the positive sides of farming discourages youth that are in search of career endeavors.
I also believe that in order to change the perception of the way agriculture is viewed by our youth, we are going to have to teach more ag. education where kids begin at the age of 4 or 5 and learn where their food really comes from. If we begin to educate children at a young age, you will have a lot more youth who are appreciative of their food and will realize how important this industry is for our country and worldwide. They would realize that just like we need people to make cars (because it is a necessary mode of transportation) we also need farmers and agri-business people in this industry to continue to grow, package and transport food around the world.
So now that we have addressed the challenges that youth will be presented with, lets look at the solutions to these troubles. First of all and most importantly, focusing resources on youth development needs is a must in order to have youth stay. Such an initiative should be aimed at communicating a more positive image of agriculture to young people by both the media and by farmers themselves.
Agriculture must be valued for what it is: the bedrock of our society, and the cornerstone of our economy. It is an ever-evolving, ever-changing sector, one that offers many exciting career opportunities for young people, who are our leaders of tomorrow. Agricultural development of our youth for the future industry is not only an option – but a necessity! A strong commitment to youth will be a significant step in promoting that youth are the future of agriculture.
The process of the farm gate to the food on your plate is a much more valuable asset to our economy and the role of youth in this industry will never become tired as more and more focus is on food safety and environmental sustainability.
I am sure most people wonder- what WILL this next generation of youth look like
Well… like me! And like all of you young, passionate people in the crowd here today! Although yes, we realize that there may not be as many of us as there use to be at one point, the amount of youth remaining in the agricultural industry is a very passionate group of youth that our industry has NEVER seen before. This is because; our youth now have a passion for self development (which is seen through their involvement in 4-H and Junior Farmers). Our youth have a passion for innovation, science and change (which will lead agriculture in Canada to the next level) and of course our youth have a passion for the lifestyle and industry that they are so excited to be a part of!
Our youth's passion for this agricultural industry is essential so that this sector will remain vibrant and competitive for youth to stay for many generations to come and I am very excited to see what the future has to hold for agriculture!