Most students in the Agriculture Program at Barton Community College take a class titled Agriculture In Society. This isn’t simply a class to fulfill a social science requirement. The purpose of this class is threefold. First it’s important to trace and understand the development of agriculture throughout history and how that development impacted the development of civilization. Second, it’s important to understand how modern agriculture impacts modern society and really made it possible. Finally, students need to understand how modern society views agriculture, how agriculture views modern society, and the challenges agriculture faces in attempting to help modern society understand where their food comes from and how it is produced.
One of the first assignments is to individually and as a group sit down and consider what challenges agriculture faces now and into the future. This year’s class just completed the assignment and it might be of value to review what the next generation of agriculture considers their greatest challenges. This isn’t the entire list but the dominant themes they all pretty much agreed on.
• Difficulty in starting in farming and ranching unless you can join the family operation.
• A shortage of individuals working in production agriculture and the older age of those that are.
• Rural vs. Urban – Students are concerned the public doesn’t understand where their food comes from and what those in agriculture actually do to produce their foods.
• The high cost of land and inputs. This relates to the first bullet point. Land is so expensive it is difficult for them to start in the industry. The high cost of inputs relative to the price of the commodities produced. And they are concerned about the availability of capital to finance their operations as they start.
• Climate and weather – While they are evenly split about whether or not global warming is real, they all agree the climate may be their greatest challenge in crop and livestock production. Remember these are students between 18 and 21 years of age. While they were growing up they experienced extremely wet weather followed by drought and heat more extreme than the Dust Bowl years.
• Government regulation – The consensus was there are too many government regulations. However, they all agreed some regulation was needed and all want to insure a safe, clean, healthy environment.
• The public – While this relates to the rural vs. urban issue, it’s much broader. They feel crop and livestock agriculture is under societal pressure to change what they do as producers. This included everything from PETA and HSUS to the anti-GMO and organic food movement. They think the public needs educated on what they actually do to produce food, fiber, and fuel. There is also concern on their part on how to respond to changing consumer tastes and preferences.
• Water – This extends beyond drought and refers to the ability to sustain the aquifer.
• Technology – They view the rapidly changing pace of technology as both positive and negative. Included in this is the area of genetic engineering and their concern over pests developing resistance to pesticides, especially Roundup ®.
There is more but as you read this list you in the agriculture industry should feel a little satisfied that today’s next generation of agriculturalists are aware and paying attention to the challenges the industry faces.