Questioning the current state of agriculture?

Here's a perspective that may provide you an entirely new insight as to the value YOU, our great Modern Farmers provide each of us.

By W. K. Collins and B. Farrell

For years I have been involved and encouraged young farmers to develop their leadership skills. With less than 2% of our nation’s population involved in agricultural production, it’s more important now than it ever has been before for consumers to have a realistic understanding of farmers. Farming has developed from a way of life only a few years ago to a business that requires professionals with an appetite for rewards and an understanding that some of the biggest problems a farmer may face is not necessarily found in the field(s).

Because of the impacts of COVID-19, our population has been faced with something I never thought I’d see in America, and that’s widespread reports of empty grocery store shelves and cases. This stark reality provides a prime opportunity for our nation to think about the farmers behind this food. Recent headlines have tried to communicate that we have an abundant food supply, but panic seems to override logic.

Popular movies and books don’t often reflect the realities that you face each day. This past December, Michelle Grainger had the opportunity to share at the TEDxCaryWomen event with an audience that most likely is not familiar with farming.

Many who have viewed this talk by Michelle Grainger have given it “high marks”.

If you are not familiar with a TED Talk, it is a short, carefully prepared talk, demonstration or performance that is idea-focused and collectively cover a wide range of topics.

TED stands for technology, entertainment and design. This is a not a typical place for a talk promoting the values of agriculture. TED.com.

In this 17-minute presentation, Grainger speaks about the future of local, US and Global agriculture. I would highly recommended that all involved with agriculture take the time to listen to her talk and to share it with their family and friends.

She presents with great enthusiasm and challenges us all to think about the future. I guarantee your viewpoint about agriculture will be improved and encouraged as you hear her expound on the importance of agriculture and future opportunities in the industry.

When this talk was originally presented in December of 2019, we could not imagine that a global pandemic was on the horizon. We are experiencing firsthand just how interdependent food availability is to our (society's) sense of security. NC Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has often said, “hungry people are mean people,” and we have seen civil unrest due to inadequate food supplies in other parts of the world. We are not accustomed to widespread panic surrounding food availability domestically.

To prepare, Grainger asked people what comes to their mind when they hear the words farmer, farm and farming. The responses she received varied, and let’s face it, we all have our own definitions.

The perceptions she collected from the general public further underscore the extreme disconnect of perceptions versus reality between the mainstream consumer and modern agriculture. Farmers are directly related to our national security and fulfilling our nation’s food and fiber needs daily. Additionally, your farms provide economic security. If you’ve traveled anywhere in the world, you know that our food is very cheap as to a percentage of our income. Not to mention, we have to the world’s safest, most abundant and affordable food supply.

The current global pandemic highlights the need for bright young people to be planning for careers in agriculture, life sciences and related fields. Often, these students and their families may not be aware of the vast number of career opportunities connected to agriculture. People who have a farm background are in a unique position to ‘capitalize’ on lifelong experiences to provide leadership for the many new opportunities that are present and emerging in agricultural related professions.

For example, the use of drones is far reaching when considered for application in agriculture. Agricultural law is wide open and very much needs attorneys for numerous matters. The values learned and experiences acquired already from growing up on a family farm gives these young people a BIG advantage when compared to their peers!

We in agriculture, are no strangers to answering the call of large global challenges. We don’t shy away from the idea that we’ll need to grow much more food over the next 30 years to feed a growing global population. It’s estimated that by 2050 we will need to produce 70% more, just to meet these demands.

Producing more with reduced resources is part of the solution, but farmers will also need to rely on technological advances and expanding their skill set to fill this need.

I’m confident that this will be accomplished through the continued collaborative efforts of our land-grant universities, commodity associations and farmers. Think about the multitude of career opportunities that will be associated with meeting this need, both in production and other agriculture-related fields. The career opportunities are almost limitless!

Many don’t realize that farmers are the first conservationists. For generations we have worked to make our land as productive as it can be for the next season and next generation based on the information of the time.

As a farmer, you are constantly multitasking and utilizing a multitude of skills required across a spectrum of professions, ranging from a CEO of a business to a highly specialized mechanic to a data scientist and everything in between.

Farms remain essential to our national security and economic stability. Programs such as the Executive Farm Management Program and the NC Tobacco Trust Fund Agricultural Leadership Development Program are working to make sure farmers are prepared to meet the challenges of the future.

We all need to work to make sure that farms remain profitable and thrive. Part of this work includes sharing with others the value of agriculture to our communities, state, nation and world and encouraging young people to explore careers in this area – and there is no time like the present.

This article originally appeared in the Modern Tobacco Grower published by Fair Products, Inc.

Dr. William K. Collins: bill_collins@ncsu.edu
Ms. Beth P. Farrell: beth.farrell@ncagr.gov


Michelle Grainger: mgrainger@ncsu.edu
Link to M. Grainger's Talk: #FarmerStrong: An Idea Worth Seeding

Ted Talk with Michelle Grainger

We would like to thank Michelle Grainger, Dr. William K. Collins, Ms. Beth P. Farrell, Renee Allan, and Modern Tobacco Grower for their work on this article and their permission for us to share.