Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How young should a "young" farmer be?

Towards the end of my tenure as Chairman of the AFBF's Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee, a few people started talking to me about the possibility of raising the program's age limit from 35 to 40 years old. And even though I've been off that committee since early February, I'm still asked about it occasionally (had a conversation Monday, in fact). For those of you not familiar with the program, eligibility to participate in national YF&R contests or hold a position on the national committee is capped at age 35.  Most (if not all) state Farm Bureaus follow this same eligibility requirement, though other program participation (conferences, projects, etc.) may not have a mandatory "cut-off" age.

There are several merits to having a "young _______" program within an agricultural organization that is fully inclusive of members up to age 40.  It obviously allows for more participants and gives the program an opportunity to select more "experienced" leadership, both of which strengthen the program. It also helps keep members engaged and "paying their dues" within the organization while they may still be seen as too young or inexperienced for upper-level leadership positions. A higher age-limit also gives people who may not join the organization until their 30s an opportunity to receive the full benefit of the program.  My dairy co-op's Young Cooperator program is available for members through the age of 40, and it seems to work perfectly for our organization.

On the flip side, some counter that the role of a "young _____" program is to train and prepare its members to make an impact on the organization sooner than later, and that our best young leaders should be pushed to challenge for those higher leadership positions based on their ability and regardless of their age. Also, there is generally a fairly significant difference in maturity and life experience between people who are in their early 20's and late-30's, and having a program that spans a twenty year age difference between members could create two distinct internal sub-groups.  Another argument is that participation among younger members may decline if they believe their climb up through the pecking order will take several more years. 

All things considered, I think the overall goal of any organization (agricultural or otherwise) offering a program for its younger members is to get them personally invested and prepare them for future leadership.  As far as agricultural programs, there has been and will continue to be lots of conversation about where the 35-40 year olds fit within the hierarchy.  As for the ones I'm involved with, I think the age range for DFA's Young Cooperator Program and Farm Bureau's YF&R Program, though different, are right where they need to be.

So that's my opinion, one which I feel I can share more openly now that I am no longer part of the decision making process on this issue.  I'd love to get the perspective of y'all out in the blogoshere and internetland to see if your opinions vary as widely as they have in my conversations. What are your thoughts? How young should a "young" farmer be, or at least within the context of being labeled "young" by an agricultural organization?


Steph said...

I've often wondered about what young farmers do when they age out, but still would like to participate. I suppose they could still participate, but just couldn't compete in contests and such. Unless they joined when they were older, they should have had plenty of time to particpate in whatever contests they would like to though. There's sort of a void if you're too old to be in Young Farmers, but aren't qualified to serve on the county board. I know the women can join the Women's Committee, but there's not really anything for men. Maybe there needs to be a new program for those who age out and aren't qualified for the county board? "Friends of the Farmers Federation" or something, lol.

Will Gilmer said...

Some counties do a good job of involving YFs & YF alums in their commodity committees/programs. We also have a 2-year leadership program in our state that folks can apply for up to age 45.
There's always going to be a group stuck in "the void" though, because generally people move through the YF program faster than committee & board positions roll over.

Steph said...

I knew some could join commodity committees, but I was thinking more along the lines of people who don't farm, but still want to be involved. We have a lot of that in our YF committee.

Unknown said...

I learned about the FB YF program when I was just over 35. I kind of feel that those between 35 and 60 are kind of left off the grid. BTW We are 47 and 49 with 6 & 8 year old girls, so we still "fit in" with the YF crowd and can serve as mentors without looking or sounding like their mothers and fathers (hopefully!)

I am glad that these programs are available to young people wanting to be a part of ag. They serve as great learning tools and provide a wealth of learning experiences to all who participate!