Hundreds of young agricultural professionals from across Ohio gathered in the state’s capital this past weekend. Adam Sharp, Executive Vice President of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, kicked off the event Friday evening. He urged the audience to take out our phones, “On April 18th mark your calendars ‘run out of food’. Without farmers the world would run out of food in just 74 days,” he explained.
He went on to identify obstacles young farmers face to feed the future, and our role and responsibility to take on the challenge. Farmers must find a way to feed 9.7 billion people by 2050.¹ We must do it on less land, with fewer fertilizer and agrochemical applications, and reduced fuel and irrigation. Ever-evolving technology and new regulations will require our attention, while changing weather patterns and market demands will test our resilience.
It is clear that the future of agriculture looks very different than the past. Adapting to change and defeating challenges won’t be easy, but running out of food (failure) is not an option. Tomorrow’s Ag leaders show the way with service, collaboration and value-driven leadership.
Leading with service means putting the needs of the people first. 20 years ago consumers purchased food from the grocery store- no questions asked. Today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from, who grew it and how it was produced. Farmers must do more than fill stomachs; we must nourish consumers’ needs for trust and transparency in food production.
One way Ag leaders can foster trust is by having meaningful conversations with the people. Communication serves consumers by addressing their concerns and misconceptions about modern food production.
Service-based leadership calls farmers to get involved in grassroots organizations that advocate agriculture. Together with members, these organizations serve a greater good by promoting awareness and good policy making.
Collaboration is working together to achieve a common goal. Collaborative leaders recognize farmers can achieve big things through cooperation. The majority of farms in Ohio are small and family owned. Small farmers can band together to make bulk supply purchases, share transportation and co-market farm products. They can pool product for volume processing discounts.
Farmers in my community share labor and equipment to make hay. We share resources to reduce cost and risk. We depend on one another in times of trouble. I once called a farmer in my network for help with an animal who was not responding to treatment for mastitis. Less than 10 minutes later my farm friend arrived, with medical supplies in-hand, happy to help.
Collaborative leaders are committed to training and developing the next generation of farmers. They work alongside inexperienced farmers, answering questions and offering advice. They know we are all on the same team and that when team Ag wins, we all win.
Value-driven leaders empower farmers to face the challenge of feeding the future without compromising our values.
Farmers care about the land and animals. We recognize our farms are part of a global and local community. Our farms are also our homes. We feed and clothe our families with the same food and fiber we produce for consumers. Our agricultural practices support our values and guide our actions to produce safe and healthy food for everyone.
Value-driven leaders don’t lose sight of what is important, even when stress and stakes are high. Sometimes that means coming up short on yield goals or following through on a price contract that doesn’t benefit our bottom line, but upholds the integrity of our operation.
Value-driven leadership means sharing our values with fellow farmers. Hosting on-farm educational events to teach others about sustainable farming practices is value-driven leadership. Last year I attended a grazing conference that included a tour of a managed grazing operation. As the group walked through lush pastures, the farmer shared his motivation to switch to rotational grazing, “I get less from each acre in terms of animal production and its more work moving stock, but rotated grazing improves my soil’s fertility and overall forage quality. I know it’s better for the land and better for the animals. In the end, doing what’s right is what matters the most.”
¹ “World population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050,” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, July 29, 2015, Accessed February 4, 2017 from http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/2015-report.html