Warning: This column may offend. Sorry – not sorry.
Through the years, with land-grant universities having less federal funding, commodity groups have filled the research gap. One of the unintended consequences of this is that research tends to be siloed. A barley group may conduct variety and disease trials, and a potato group may do the same with potatoes, but there is no central cache for this research to reside. Even when commodity groups collaborate with extension staff, the distribution of information tends to remain siloed.
And yet, no farm is a monoculture. Every farm has a system of rotation crops and pasture concerns, but to get at the research for every crop, the producer has to be involved with each specific commodity group – and that’s just not possible. And note that we haven’t even addressed the water groups, the soil data and research, the conservation groups, the pesticide and applicator continuing credit requirements. There is just no way a producer can be involved in all of these and assimilate all the data.
It's not surprising, then, that each year ag organizations and associations see a dwindling number of growers entering their membership ranks. What is that attributable to? Information silos are only part of the problem, but apparently, we can’t blame the millennial generational culture, either.
Born between 1981 and 1996, millennials are the largest living group of people at 83.1 million strong. This generation, which is not joining the ranks of association membership proportionate to their numbers, craves work-life balance (unlike parents who were all work, they want to play sometimes too). They require a seat at the table (hard for older generations to accept), and they want to keep learning. But if these needs are not met, organizations cannot attract or maintain their loyalty.
Naylor Association Solutions says recent research from the Association Communications Benchmarking Report suggests that more than half (56%) of associations admit they have trouble engaging young professionals, and 55% of associations have trouble customizing their communications for different member subgroups. However, this disconnect can be overcome if association professionals better understand the motivations of millennials and are willing to target their information campaigns to attract them. They value social and professional networking, personal branding and growth, and community outreach, all of which are well within the function of professional organizations.
I’ve heard organization boards throughout the state talk about dwindling farms and thus farmers, and in Idaho, as elsewhere, that is true. However, in Idaho in 2014, the USDA reported there were 24,700 farms. In 2022, they reported 24,400 farms. So in eight years, 300 farms were lost (with an accompanying loss of 200,000 acres). While that is concerning, that is by no means a landslide problem. And young people are now coming back to the farms, but they’re still not joining the organizational ranks in the same numbers as previous generations did.
As ag organizations and associations around the state gear up for this coming event-show-conference season, please keep these younger producers’ needs in mind – their real needs of meaningful involvement. It’s up to you. Make it happen.