Top of Mind: Tips for Tomorrow's Farmers

August 3, 2016 02:44 AM

We all know the average age of U.S. farmers is knocking on 60. Farmers under age 35 make up a mere 6% of principal operators. Although young farmers are few in number, they are blazing innovative paths. A perfect example is Zoey Brooks, featured in this month’s cover story.

In June, we held the first-ever two-day Tomorrow’s Top Producer conference, which provides business education and networking for farmers under 40. The excitement and dedication of attendees inspired me, as did their hunger for actionable information.

Attendees said they are most concerned about their growth and profit opportunities during the next few years. Work-life balance, succession planning and employee management also top their concerns. Young farmers also have the seemingly insurmountable test of stepping into an existing operation and having their opinions taken seriously. 

Over the two days in Nashville, conference speakers addressed those topics and many other issues. Here are a few pieces of advice they shared. 

Market With Purpose. “Use the right marketing tool at the right time to give yourself the greatest opportunity to succeed,” says Chip Flory, Pro Farmer editorial director and host of the “Market Rally” radio program. 

Audition For Management. Many young farmers Bret Oelke advises have off-farm jobs and are “farmers in waiting,” he says. They provide labor and have limited input, says Oelke, owner of consulting firm Innovus Agra. “They have a ton of good ideas, but they’re not appreciated yet,” he says. His advice: Act like an owner. “At some point, you’ll transfer to ownership, where responsibility and risk will both jump,” he says.

Adopt New Technology. As a young farmer, it can be difficult to determine the best investments. Moe Russell, president of Russell Consulting Group, offers this advice: “You don’t have to use the latest technology, but you have to compete with those who do.”

Create Meaningful Connections. The benefits of networking are enormous. How can you make meaningful connections? Here’s a tip from Andrew McCrea, host of the “American Countryside” radio program, part of Farm Journal Media. “Seek to make people a V.I.P. by understanding their values, interests and purpose,” McCrea says. 

Be sure to join us Dec. 1-2 for the sixth annual Executive Women in Agriculture conference and Jan. 25-27 for Top Producer Seminar. Both events are in Chicago. Learn more at I’m planning agendas now, so please send me your ideas.

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