Written by B. Lynn Gordon (former SDSU Extension Agricultural Leadership Specialist).
The holiday season is time for family. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the holidays, reunite and spend time together due to busy schedules throughout the year or who may be spread many miles apart.
Historically, in agriculture farm families make up the greatest percentage of business ownership, many of which are generational family operations, two or three generations of family working side-by-side daily to produce agricultural products. The holiday season is an important time for them to celebrate but less focus is on reuniting.
Working Across Generations
In my next series of columns, I will discuss working across generations. First and foremost is the realization of the differences in each generation — differences which can bring great foresight and value yet differences that can take time for each generation to understand or get more comfortable with.
For example, let’s consider three generations at the ABC Farm; a 71-yr-old who started the farming business, his son a 51-yr-old farming with his dad and a 24-yr-old grandson now involved in the operation.
Senior Generation: The senior generation started the farming business and is still very active in the operation although his son thinks he should be slowing down. The grandfather was born during the boomer generation, when work always came first as did loyalty. They respected others of their generation and their elders and thus believed respect was part of daily work and all communication. They were much more used to conducting deals with a handshake or making face-to-face visits to order equipment parts or buy corn than do it on the internet. So trying to understand the new technologies in today’s agricultural marketplace is very foreign and frustrating to them. They just want to do it the way their father did it and the way they were taught. Depending on the individual however falling in the baby boomer generation have become more open-minded to new technologies, but not the individual in this example.
Middle Generation: The middle generation at ABC Farms, is in the prime of his farming/ranching career. He had had learned hands-on from his father for 20 years how to do things the best way possible, and knows he has about 20 years ahead yet to farm productively. He has seen a great deal of changes in technology and has had minimal experience with it when he was in college, just before heading back to the farm. Once at the farm, and during the past 10-15 years there has been an explosion of technology such as from biotech crops, to GPS, and genomic testing in cattle. He has devoted time to grasp all these changes, explain them to his father and decipher which technologies are critical to implement. He has had a steep learning curve with internet use and has realized business can’t always be done face-to-face like his dad wants it to be done. Sometimes the seed corn has to be ordered over the internet or via a text to the corn dealer. He struggles to get the senior generation to respect him for his ideas, because he of course, is not the senior operator.
Future Generation: The 24-yr-old son graduates from college and decides to come back to the operation. The family was able to acquire more land and this next generation wanted to farm. Straight out of college he has a wealth of fresh ideas from improving crop rotations, buying a larger air-seeder to increase seeding rates and reduce planting hours, and maybe even considering adding another enterprise to diversify and add more income to the operation. This 24-yr-old has many qualities of the millennial generation which his age ranks him as. He heavily relies on the internet, social media and text messages. He does not like to sit down to meet with his dad and granddad to talk through issues, since he believes they consider him the young generation, and don’t respect his skills and input. Both senior generations don’t seem to comprehend why he spends so much time with friends or social activities ahead of farm. Yet, this young person is very in tune with modern agriculture through his most recent college education, continuous education through the internet sources and thus, has a lot to offer to the operation.
Can you see the differences in the mindset of these three individuals just by the generations they represent, and the experiences they have had? What will this mean for communication, building a strong team for their business, and keeping their family working together? These are all items that we will dig deeper in future columns focused on ‘Agricultural Generational Communications and Needs.’