How future generations are changing agriculture
First, I’ve noticed that my daughter and the neighbor kids aren’t spending much time in the inflatable backyard pool this summer. Instead, they are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder next to each other on our couch, playing role-playing games on the Nintendo Switch.
They are still chatting and goofing together, but in a blurry space between real life and the virtual world.
Also this summer, I was shopping at a local grocery store, and I saw small pools, water shoes and sunglasses for sale. But these summer essentials weren’t for kids. They were for dogs.
Yes, people are putting tiny sunglasses on dogs — not just for a laugh — but to protect their pets’ eyes from UV rays. Apparently, whether or not you think that dog sunglasses are odd is a generational thing.
More so than we realize, our values and perceptions are shaped by the years when we were born, according to the new book, “Generations,” by Jean M. Tweng, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.
Tweng claims that technology is rapidly driving social change across generations. This is why socializing on screens — when you’re physically together in the same room — seems so bizarre to me, but is completely normal to my daughter. And it’s why we are seeing a rise in “pet parents,” a description that didn’t exist in popular media before the 2010s.
Of course, these generational changes will also impact agriculture in the future, as more Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Zers (born between 1996 and 2012) take on ag leadership roles.
Based on Tweng’s predications on generational change, I’m sharing a few of my own thoughts on how Millennials, Gen Z, Polars and beyond will impact agriculture in the next century. (If you’re wondering, Polars — born after 2012 — are named after the polar bear, a symbol of climate change, and after the increasing polarization of government.)
Expect more polarization in government.The COVID pandemic and the rise of social media, which gains more traffic from negative and outlandish claims, have widened the political divide in the U.S.
No longer is the biggest political divide between young and old. Now it’s between urban and rural, Tweng says. Geography is a better indicator of your political views than your age.
Of course, this polarization will impact farm policy. Farm Bureau members and their outreach efforts will be more vital than ever. Farmers will need to share their stories and connect with a growing urban population that isn’t familiar with modern agriculture.
Younger generations are actually better off (even if they “waste” money on fancy coffee and avocado toast.) Despite complaints from the younger generation about always being “broke,” Millennials and Gen Zers are doing better financially than their Boomer and Gen X parents were at the same age.
For example, more Millennials own homes now than Gen Xers did in their 30s.
Yes, childcare and college costs have soared well above the pace of inflation. Yet in most Millennial households, both parents are well educated and work higher paying jobs (in health care, information technology, business, etc.).
Millennials and Gen Zers are also more individualistic. They view food choices as part of their identity, even if some of those choices place unsustainable demands on farmers.
World population will continue to decline.World population will continue to decline. Birth rates here in the U.S. and across the world are rapidly falling and show no sign of reversing.
In fact, surveys find that many Millennials and Gen Zers don’t plan to get married or have children. Thus, the rise in “pet parents.” (In fact, Gen Zers — who are 25 years old and younger — actually don’t date much. They prefer socializing online).
As the world population declines, trade will become more vital, and U.S. farmers will need access to new markets overseas.
However, it also means there could be fewer young people who take the place of older generations on family farms.
We’re all connected virtually.Younger generations are extremely comfortable living in virtual spaces. COVID sped up this trend. Millennials and Gen Zers shop, bank, socialize, date, work and seek entertainment online.
Young farmers will be quick to adopt new technologies that make farming sustainable — for the environment, for the animals and for the farmers and their farm workers.
Perhaps in the future, agriculture could work like the “Farmland Simulator” virtual game, where farm operators sit in offices and control tractors and machinery remotely.
Of course, many farm chores, including animal care, will always require leather boots on the ground.
As Tweng stresses in her book, none of these generational changes are necessarily good or bad, and no generation is better than the others.
For example, the Silents (born between 1928 and 1945) and Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) laid the foundation for most of the social change we see today — including the Civil Rights movement, higher education levels and advances in computers and technology.
It’s also important to remember: Every generation depends on farmers. Agriculture is the basic building block of our everyday lives — as individuals and as a society — and always will be.