U.S. agriculture is changing as young people leave the ranch for the city, but providing leadership and training could help bring them back, a Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation representative said.
“One of the problems identified in the (agriculture) community is young people leaving ag and leaving the family farm,” Albany County Farm Bureau Federation President Kyle Berger said.
Kyle Berger and his wife, Stacy Berger, work with the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers & Ranchers program to help educate young people about not only the benefits of staying in an agriculture career, but also coming to agriculture for the first time.
“Young Farmers & Ranchers is open to everyone, regardless their skill level or production level,” Kyle Berger said. “It gives them the tools they need to succeed.”
While 4-H and FFA promote agriculture awareness for children younger than 18, Young Farmers & Ranchers is for people ages 18-35.
“It’s a great way to get involved in leadership and policy,” said Stacy Berger, the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee chair. “In FFA and 4-H, there is a lot judging and competitions. We like to continue that by having competitive discussion meets.”
To an outsider, she said the discussions might resemble debates, but the program discourages aggressive oratory, focusing instead, on innovation and working together.
“We think getting people talking about ag is one of the most important things we can do,” Stacy Berger said.
There are about 12 members currently in Albany County and more throughout the state, but Kyle Berger said he hopes to see membership grow in coming years.
“It’s been around for quite awhile — about two decades at least,” he said. “But it’s not as popular in Wyoming as in other states.”
Because Young Farmers & Ranchers caters to adults typically working their own land, Kyle Berger said members only come together about four times a year, usually at events rather than meetings.
The Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee breaks the program down into three subcommittees —promotions, competitive events and leadership. While the promotions subcommittee focuses on awareness programs such as “Ag Books for Kids,” the leadership and competitive events committees promote efforts to build discussions between farmers, ranchers and the general public about the food production process.
“A lot of the public are getting further removed from agriculture and their understanding of how their food is produced,” Kyle Berger said. “Some people are fearful about what’s going on in the food-making process and if their food is safe. So, (Young Farmers & Ranchers) have offered us a lot of training about how to talk to the public about how we produce our food.”
Additionally, the program teaches young people about the legal aspects of inheriting ranches and farms, he said.
“Succession planning is about transferring ownership of the farm to the next generation,” Kyle Berger said. “It used to be they used the English common law to determine who gets what, and nobody deviated from it. But nowadays, it’s just practice and nobody really knows what’s going to happen until rather late in life.”
He said the uncertainty was a significant factor in the industry’s rising attrition rate.
“Another issue is there are hundreds of opportunities where you could work a lot less and make a lot more,” Stacy Berger said.
To teach succession planning and promote the value of agricultural careers, Kyle Berger said seminars are hosted at the annual Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Conference.
“The leadership conference helps bring people together,” he said. “We have sessions and different speakers to try to help people with their finances, production or how to keep their ranches going after changing management practices because of rising costs.”
The conference is hosted at the state level, but at the local level, Stacy Berger said Young Farmers & Ranchers engages the community with “Ag Olympics” at the University of Wyoming’s “Wyoming Needs Agriculture Day” each year.
“We set up a plastic horse and have people try to rope a calf, throw tires in the back of a pickup and just do things they might do out on the ranch,” she said. “It’s a fun way to raise awareness about what we do and get people thinking about where their food comes from.”
Call Kyle Berger at 760-8018 or go to www.wyfb.org to learn more about Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers & Ranchers.