Will a Lack of Young Farmers Be a Problem for Future Generations?

Many agricultural jobs are now on the New Zealand skills shortage list. Roles like poultry and dairy farming are not the obvious choices for young people when choosing a career. Could it be that many have lost touch with the land around them? Or are the opportunities in finance and technology more appealing options?

Young people now have career options that were unimaginable 50 to 100 years ago. Interest in new ventures is understandable. However, these new jobs can create shortages in existing industries. Long-established roles in farming will continue to be vital to our way of life, so it’s essential to comprehend what we stand to lose.

Farming As A Way Of Life

Primary industries are at the heart of New Zealand’s overseas trade. The country is the world’s largest dairy and sheep meat exporter. Plus, it’s estimated that agriculture, forestry and fisheries jobs make up around 6% of the workforce.

On the North and South islands, farms are a familiar part of the landscape. While many families stay in rural areas and work the land, it’s common for the younger generation to spend more time in towns and cities. With the connection to the land lost, careers in agriculture will no longer be a natural choice for the young.

Go With What You Know

In previous generations, children grew up on farms and knew their way around dairy or crops. Technology now forms an integral part of young people’s lives. Kids have become experts in social media and online games (video games, casino games like poker, etc.), as well as other forms of entertainment.

It’s understandable, then, that careers in IT or similar fields are often the first choice. This trend is especially apparent in young people who have prolonged access to the internet.

Some organisations, like AgriKids, aim to bring back that connection with the outdoors and show school children how appealing farming roles can be. Competitions that test agricultural knowledge and practical ability have proven to be successful. The activities engage potential young farmers and demonstrate a variety of agricultural work. Participants also gain a sense of accomplishment that comes with the job.

A Bridge Between Two Worlds

It doesn’t have to be one thing or the other, though. Playing online games and exploring technology has applications beyond the IT and entertainment industries. Understanding how to code an app, pick up and play any game, or use smart devices is useful in many careers.

That includes farming, where technology is changing the industry, and young farmers are leading the way. A drone can keep track of fencing and observe remote parts of the land. Apps play their role too, in providing more accurate and up-to-date information, helping farmers make vital decisions.

The hope is that the young, tech-savvy generations can bring a new approach to farming. Ideally, it will be one that improves sustainability and efficiency. As more young farmers harness data, precision agriculture will ensure the continued success of New Zealand’s primary industry. Provided we retain enough of them.

2 Nov 2020