A study released by Osborn Barr reveals many challenges and opportunities on the horizon for the agriculture industry as the next generation prepares to take over the farm.
The generational shift study titled “Farmers of Tomorrow: Generation Z’s Future in Agriculture” is the first comprehensive study to better understand how the next generation views farming and ranching.
The initial qualitative research results indicate the gap in attitudes, perceptions and intentions between “Gen Z” (18-to 22-years-olds with an immediate family member farming) and “BoomXY” (Baby Boomer, Generation X and millennial farmers age 28 to 74).
The Osborn and Barr Ag Advisory Council — which was created in June 2017 to examine and interpret some of agriculture’s most important issues facing rural America — provided strategic guidance on the study development.
“A number of trends emerged, and their potential for impacting the industry are real,” said Richard Fordyce, Ag Advisory Council Chairman. “It’s important to consider how the next generation will shape the ag industry moving forward.”
The study results identified four major factors shaping the future of agriculture:
1. Farm succession expectations differ
Of the sample surveyed, succession expectations differ between older farmers/ranchers and their children, many of whom plan to work in agribusiness.
- 71% of BoomXY farming parents believe at least one of their children may desire to take over their farming business someday compared to 54% of the farm-raised 18-to 22-year-olds who indicate a desire to take over the family farming/ranching business some day.
- For those 18- to 22-year-olds who don’t currently plan to take over the family farming/ranching business, obtaining a degree in an ag-related field is viewed as a means of remaining involved in agriculture with the steady paycheck that farming often doesn’t offer.
“The reason I do not choose farming as a career is because I need a more steady option and also want a career that does not have such big risk and startup costs,” said one Gen Z study respondent.
2. Gen Z views government involvement more positively
Research indicates a shift with Gen Z viewing government involvement more positively than the older age group.
- Gen Z had an overwhelmingly positive outlook when it came to government entities (USDA, EPA, FDA), far outpacing BoomXY in regard to the FDA, in particular.
- 64% of the farm-raised 18-to 22-year-olds view restricted immigration policy FAVORABLY compared to just 35% who oppose greater immigration restrictions.
“Based on this data, I believe Gen Z has more trust in government, they know the issues and they are committed to ag,” Fordyce said. “They are more engaged with law makers, active in policy and want to make a difference.”
3. Ag tech tops the list for Gen Z
According to the study, Gen Z is more in favor of agricultural technology.
- 85% of the farm-raised 18-to 22-year-olds view existing herbicide technologies positively compared to 43% of farmers 28 and older
- 85% of the farm-raised 18-to 22-year-olds view existing insecticide technologies positively compared to 59% of farmers 28 and older
- The older age group had a more balanced opinion of organic farming, while Gen Z skewed negatively and also in favor of existing bio ag technologies
- GMOs and more advanced genetic engineering is largely perceived positively by both ag groups but even more so from Gen Z.
“Gen Z seems to not be afraid of technology and even expect new advancements more than any other generation,” Fordyce said. “It’s a very encouraging signal for this industry, and I’m confident in our leaders of tomorrow.
4. Gen Z prefers peers over brand names
Research shows Gen Z is less brand loyal, and more peer driven when making decisions and are more receptive to marketing messages.
- 78% of the farm-raised 18-to 22-year-olds consider brand names important when it comes to purchasing farm products compared to 90% of BoomXY farmers/ranchers
- For ag information, Gen Z was far more receptive to information provided by their peers via social media, other farmers, network/cable TV and ag/rural radio, while the older age group favored ag print pubs, network radio and manufacturer websites
- Gen Z was much more inclined to pay attention to marketing messages, while BoomXY was not, unless it came from their dealer/retailer.
“We know what we need on our farm and ultimately if it gets the job done the brand shouldn’t matter,” said one Gen Z survey respondent.
This baseline data will be expanded within the next year to provide a more in depth understanding of the compelling aspects of the next generation and tomorrow’s American family farm. Future key topics of exploration include ag tech adoption, food innovation and the broader issues of rural America.