Abandoning Desks to Embrace the Field: Millennials Take to Tech-driven Agriculture

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Young Millennials are taking to tech-driven agriculture for healthier, sustainable food production

Farming will never be obsolete, because the human race cannot survive without food. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.”

However, this reality is not that simple for transitioning generations. Between 2007 and 2012, the agriculture industry lost about 100,000 farmers aged 45 and 54 years. With aging generations of Baby boomers and Gen Xers giving way to Millennials, the much-respected livelihood of farming suddenly became unappealing. This stark reality became a grave concern to community leaders, for Millennials comprise at least 73 million people of the U.S. population. They are already the largest segment in the American workforce and very soon will be 50% of it.

Earlier farming methods lacking technological integration, did  little to capture Millennials, the first “digital generation.”  As tech billionaire Elon Musk’s brother, Kimbal Musk, said, “If you look at just five years ago, farming was considered, you know, this is what your grandparents did.” However, Musk says, “Over the past few years, there’s been this extraordinary demand and desire to be a farmer amongst the younger generation.”

How indeed did Millennials step up their interest in an occupation they initially had no interest in? According to a 2012 census of farmers by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of principal farmers from 25 to 34 had increased 2.2% when compared to five years before.

One striking reason for a revival of farming among Millennials, is they care about how food is produced and they care that farming should be sustainable and safe for the environment. Farmers have had to learn how to adapt to these changing attitudes toward food and farming. Furthermore, Millennials have the advantage when it comes to modern agriculture.

 However, because they often share these attitudes, millennial farmers have an advantage over earlier generations of farmers.

According to the National Young Farmer Coalition, a nonprofit based in New York, millennial farmers are uniquely different from earlier generations of farmers. And they have the advantage when it comes to modern agriculture. For instance, they are more likely to be college-educated and not come from farming families. They believe in engaging in sustainable farming practices and produce organic pure food.

Millennials find one of the biggest challenges of urban living is being unable to easily access fresh produce. Furthermore, one basic idea of “urban resilience” is local food production. For instance, if fruits, vegetables and herbs are grown in cities, they’ll reduce the runoff, emissions, perishability and transport costs of produce. They will end up making cities more self-sustaining, rather than having to fully rely on food grown elsewhere.

Once they found that advanced technology such as drones, infrared imaging and GPS-enabled tractors could be used, many Millennials were keen to leave desk jobs and get into farming.

As 30-year-old Millennial farmer, Keith Walter, from Florida, said, “New technology and research make things more complex, simpler, and efficient all at the same time. It’s being open to learning and adapting to alternate ways rather than ‘doing what we’ve always done’ that sets the millennial farmer apart from other generations.”

Meanwhile, ,22-year-old farmer, Garrison Kinsel, from Texas, said, “We have been raised in an age where technology is constantly advancing, and we have been forced to grow with that technology. As farming and agriculture continues to change, advances in technology and changes in the norm will be handled much easier by people of my generation.”

From another perspective, micro farming has become a trendy buzzword in posh agricultural circles. Micro farming is small-scale, high-yield, manual, sustainable farming, in urban or suburban areas. According to Kip Curtis, associate professor of environmental history at Ohio State University, Micro-farming is productive farming on a smaller scale. As he relates, “On one-third of an acre (on a microfarm), I can get an acre-and-a-half’s worth of vegetable production compared to field production.”

Even though micro farming isn’t a new concept, it has recently seen a resurgence as more and more people are adopting healthier and greener lifestyles in bigger cities. And one of the most significant benefits of a microfarm is knowing that your food is free of toxins and pesticides – which is one of the main reasons Millennials opted into the livelihood.

Even as Millennials redefine “healthy eating,” they are also practicing earth-friendly strategies in the field, and creating a healthy food revolution. While shoppers of older generations still read labels for information about calories and fat grams, millennials are more interested in how the food was sourced and grown, and how that affects their carbon footprint.

As Liam Condon, president of Crop Science for Bayer, said, “Millennials want to contribute to a better world. The most basic thing in the world is to make sure everyone is fed. Nothing else matters if that doesn’t happen.”

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