It should come as no surprise that the farm population is aging. I have seen this phenomenon develop over the past 15 years I have been in the veterinary practice, and it shows little sign of change. There has also been a decrease in the number of large animal veterinarians in rural areas of not only Missouri, but throughout the nation. One way you and I can help slow these trends is to mentor young people that have an interest in agriculture and livestock production.
Mentoring involves support for young people that want to learn about and engage in agriculture for a living. There are multiple ways you can provide this support. First, encourage young people that have an interest in the field of agriculture. I know it is easy to be negative in the current climate, with low commodity prices for cattle and milk and the economy in general, but low prices and tough times have occurred before and new generations of farmers and ranchers have replaced previous generations to carry on the tradition of food and fiber production. There will always be a need for food; we should stress the importance of this industry to the well being of us all.
There are many ways to mentor. Start with your own children. Nurture that interest they have in livestock or crop production; take time to answer questions and teach them why you do the things you do. Maybe a neighbor’s kid that has helped is interested in becoming more involved in production agriculture, but doesn’t have that opportunity at home. Volunteer to let them help work calves, check cows due to calve or put up hay. It not only gives the kid an opportunity to learn, but it provides some help that we can all use. Check with your local vocational agriculture teachers about students that may be looking for summer work. Talk to college instructors with agriculture students; see if they know of a student that is looking to work in your field of production. Develop your own internship program and advertise it to local colleges and universities; not every young person you come in contact with will want to start their own farm, but you never know when interest may be sparked by the opportunity you provided.
I have a client who is working with a young man that started on the dairy farm as a college intern. They are in the process of developing a transition that will allow this young man to purchase the farm and continue milking cows. This seems to be a great approach to transition the farm to a new generation.
Another example is in my own practice. We participate in a program with the University of Missouri where we host veterinary students interested in food animal medicine for three to six week externships. I have had several students in my practice; I enjoy learning from them as much as teaching my views on veterinary medicine.
As you prepare for the coming year, think about ways you can ensure agriculture is passed to a new generation.
Mike Bloss, DVM, owns Countryside Animal Clinic with his wife, Kirstin Bloss, DVM, in Aurora, Mo.