How technology is combating farming’s troubling age problem

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Here’s a stat that should keep you up at night. The average age of an American farmer is almost 60 years.



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Now consider what this means for our food. As farmers age from their profession and fewer farmers enter the field, we 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 home to pursue careers outside the family farm, with fewer people moving in to fill the void.

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 – and attracting a new generation of talent.

Related: Why An Agriculture Revolution Should Be The Next Space Race

Knowledge workers find a place in the field

As fewer people enter the profession, farmers feel the bottleneck. They are forced to do more work to feed a growing population with less labor, less input, and more dramatic weather.

Take, for example, Mike Rigby — a fourth-generation Utah rancher who routinely went to cattle auctions on weekends and saw 80-year-old ranchers lining up to sell their livestock. They had two problems: they battled historic droughts to keep their livestock alive on what little fodder they could grow, and they had no successor to take over their farms. In an effort to avoid the same fate, Rigby turned to indoor growing technology to stabilize his nutrient source and give his kids hopes of taking over a viable surgery one day.

Rigby is not an isolated example. The influx of technology on farms not only stabilizes them in the short term, but also evolves the role of the farmer to incorporate skills that are more relevant to a younger generation. This change couldn’t have come at a better time, as traditional farming methods don’t attract top talent to the fields. In fact, an extensive study found that one of the top reasons young people are hesitant to become farmers is their desire for higher education and white-collar jobs.

The good news is, as farms integrate more technology, there’s a growing demand for technologists to run systems — and a growing interest from millennials and Gen Z to get into the field.

Related: What Matters Most When Choosing Smart Farming Technology

The temptation to solve an impossible problem

So, why is this agricultural revolution appealing to young people? Easy. The brightest minds in the world are always drawn to the biggest problems, and right now it would be hard to find a more important challenge than stabilizing food production. There is no industry in the world that will forever affect more people than agriculture. This has led to incredible innovation in agricultural technology, with the global market growing at about 9% annually to a market estimated to be $22.5 billion by 2026.

It has been fueled in recent years by a massive increase in ESG investing and a generational shift towards sustainability. Millennials and Gen Z, the same generations discouraged from traditional farming, are contributing to the technology revolution that is transforming agriculture.

Farmers, who have always been eager to use technology despite their stereotypes, are doing their part by diversifying their activities and integrating artificial intelligence, remote sensing, IoT and more. With these tools, they can stabilize or improve output, while drastically reducing dependence on inputs such as water, fertilizers and pesticides.

That diversification also creates space for a whole new set of skills on farms, one that aligns with the talents and interests of Gen Z – a generation of digital natives driven by problem-solving, sustainability and skills 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 generation of talent is emerging, and like Rigby, they have a better set of tools to work with.

Related: Seven Points to Consider When Going Digital in Farming

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