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Here’s a statistic that should keep you up at night. That average age of an American farmer is almost 60 years old.
Now think about what this means for our food. As farmers age from the profession and fewer enter the fieldwe risk becoming even more dependent on the long and complicated supply chains that contribute to climate change and exorbitant prices. This has been a growing problem for decades, from Kenya to Kansas, as young people in rural areas have left their homes to pursue careers outside of the family farm and are moving in fewer to fill the gap.
But even as the average age of an American farmer nears retirement, there is hope on the horizon. Faced with climate change, a demographic crisis and a growing population, farmers are investing in sustainable technologies to keep trade alive – attracting a new generation of talent in the process.
Related: Why Revolutionizing Farming Should Be the Next Space Race
Knowledge workers find a place in this area
As fewer and fewer people enter the workforce, farmers are feeling the pinch. They are forced to do more work to support a growing population with less work, fewer inputs, and more dramatic weather.
Take Mike Rigby, for example—a fourth-generation rancher in Utah who routinely went to cattle auctions on weekends and saw 80-year-old ranchers lining up to sell their cattle. They faced two problems: they battled historic droughts to keep their livestock alive on what little fodder they could grow, and they lacked a successor to take over their farms. To avoid the same fate, Rigby turned to indoor growing technology to stabilize his forage source and give his children hope of one day taking on a profitable operation.
Rigby is not an isolated case. The influx of technology into farms not only stabilizes them in the short term, but evolves the role of the farmer to include skills that are more relevant to a younger generation. This shift couldn’t come at a better time as traditional farming methods fail to attract top talent to the fields. In fact, a broad study found that one of the main reasons young people hesitate to become farmers is their desire for higher education and clerical jobs.
The good news is that as more technology is integrated into farms, there is a growing demand for technologists to run systems – and a growing interest from Millennials and Gen Z to get into the field.
See also: What Matters Most When Choosing Smart Farming Technology
The lure of solving an impossible problem
So why is this agricultural revolution attractive to young people? Easy. The brightest minds in the world are always drawn to the biggest problems, and right now it’s hard for them to think of a more important challenge than stabilizing food production. There is no industry in the world that affects more people over the long term than agriculture. This has led to incredible innovations in farming technology world market is growing at about 9% annually to an estimated $22.5 billion market by 2026.
It has been fueled by a in recent years massive increase in ESG investments and a generational shift towards sustainability. Millennials and Gen Z, the same generations who were dissuaded from traditional farming, are helping drive the technological revolution that is transforming farming.
Farmers, who have always been avid adopters of technology, despite their stereotypes, are doing their part by diversifying their operations and integrating artificial intelligence, remote sensing, IoT and more. These tools allow them to stabilize or improve results while drastically reducing reliance on inputs such as water, fertilizers and pesticides.
This diversification also creates space for whole new skills on farms that match the talents and interests of Generation Z – a generation of digital natives driven by problem solving, sustainability and skill development. The future farmer may look different, but the values remain the same. Feeding people is a noble profession and one that will never be easy. The good news is that a new breed of talent is emerging, and like Rigby, they have better tools to work with.
See also: Seven points to consider when digitizing agriculture