Agriculture and the generation shift: a look at the farmers of tomorrow

The issue of the generational shift is certainly one of those which most closely affects the future of agriculture and the entire agrifood sector. Who will produce food in the future and how? And how will the figure of the farmer change?

This is the topic discussed by the guests and experts who feature in the third episode of Global Trends, the new BKT Network format dedicated to the macro-themes and trends that influence global agriculture.

It is estimated that in the next 15 years about a third of current farmers will retire. For most of the so-called developed world, in fact, the average age of a farmer is about fifty or sixty. Yet, fewer and fewer young people show interest in a career in agriculture, also due to the obstacles and barriers that penalize the entry of the new generations in this sector.

“The difficulty in obtaining funds for investments and to buy land is certainly one of the main obstacles that the new generations face at the beginning of their careers” – explains Matthew Tilt, journalist at the British magazine, Farm Contractor and Large Scale Farmer. “Then there is the question of wages. Agriculture, compared to other sectors, unfortunately sees generally lower wages. For this reason, a fundamental ingredient for those who want to start a business in this sector is the passion and the desire to step by step build up an activity that can often be tiring and difficult, but which also offers a lot of satisfaction.”

Yet, as Diana Lenzi, President of CEJA (the European Council of Young Farmers), explains, the generation shift is one of the prerequisites to improve the competitiveness of the agricultural sector in the long term and to guarantee sustainable food production in the future. “It is important to offer the new generations the right training and the necessary tools to help them build a future in the sector by starting a sustainable business. Above all, it is essential to support young farmers in the start-up phase where the costs are higher. As CEJA we are working hard to find solutions to facilitate the generation shift by bringing farmers themselves, young and old, to the decision-making table, giving voice to their requirements and real needs.”

According to Scott Downey, Professor at Purdue University, USA, and Director of the Center for Food and Agricultural Business, in terms of training, it will be necessary for aspiring young farmers to have thorough knowledge of the technology and digital processes. “I would say that having technological skills will be a prerequisite to work in agriculture, and the new generations will therefore have to be prepared for this. In coming years, the analysis and use of data will become increasingly central in agricultural businesses, determining the decision-making processes not only of large but also of smaller companies. The digital and technological transformation does not simply involve farmers, but the entire production chain in the sector, including suppliers.”

Finally, offering her personal experience on this issue was Giorgia Scaglia, Communication Specialist at the Scaglia Farm, located in Northern Italy and managed by her family.

“The Scaglia Farm was founded by my great-grandfather in 1931, and it is now managed by my father and uncles. It will be me, my sister and my cousins who inherit the business in the future. Do I see a difference between our generation and that of my dad and uncles? I absolutely do. Thanks to our studies we have had the opportunity to examine and understand the importance of new technologies and production methods, bringing new approaches to the company and implementing so-called ‘AgTech’. There are numerous differences between the various generations working in the sector. But one thing unites us: the passion and love for the land and for what we do.”

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