The world is changing. Over the last five years or so we’ve changed the way we shop, changed how we consume TV and changed our eating habits. In a large part, all this change has been driven by technology, with Millennials leading the way. But now those same millennials are starting to enter the agricultural jobs market and are bringing with them a range of innovative thinking and ideas that are set to transform farming beyond all recognition.
Millennials care about the food chain and sustainability
One thing that is immediately noticeable is that most millennials care about is where their food comes from. They want to know where it was produced and what chemicals were used during the process. The days of wantonly spraying crops with synthetic pesticides are not gone yet but they are surely numbered. Millennials are much more likely to choose foods that are produced using environmentally friendly alternatives such as trap crops, crop rotation and biopesticides.
Some will argue that these methods are all used today with varying rates of success and the reason more farmers are not using them is that they are too expensive compared to using synthetic pesticides. But technology is at work here too - new crops are being produced which are more resilient to disease which should reduce the need for synthetic pesticides in the future. This should help close the gap between pesticide and non-pesticide crop yields which currently stands at around 15-20%.
A good example of this is marker-assisted selection (MAS), which makes use of our increasing knowledge of gene maps to identify crop combinations that contain desirable properties which can be propagated using natural cross-breeding programmes. MAS is a much safer alternative to GM crops with much less testing required before a MAS product can be brought to market.
This makes MAS a popular area for venture capital firms because the upfront costs are much lower than GM and the products can be brought to market much sooner. Because of the strong projected growth of MAS developed products, it is not inconceivable to think that MAS crops will make up the vast majority of crops planted in the UK and Europe within the next ten years or so. MAS is a fast-growing industry and is of particular interest to biology students looking for a career in agronomy.
Sustainability is important
Sustainability is also important to millennials, and global food demand is set to double over the next 30 years. This poses huge challenges for the sustainability of food production and the delicate ecosystem which supports it. Fortunately, technology and millennials are hard at work here too. Movements are already in place to reduce the number of antibiotics used in livestock, with the poultry industry leading the way.
But many leading brands also have a role to play, particularly those which count millennials as their customers. For example, Burger King and a number of other fast food brands have vowed to cut the use of antibiotics in their chicken supply, a move designed to appeal directly at millennials.
Meat consumption looks set to fall
Millennials like to eat, just like the rest of us, but there are signs that they are cutting back on
eating meat. It’s not that they are all becoming vegetarians, but they are much more likely to moderate the amount of meat they consume. A recent study showed that 48% of 16-19 year-olds think that eating a meat-free diet, or a diet which contains better quality meat but in less quantity, is better for the environment.
This will have fundamental changes to livestock farming in the future. If they have not already done so, producers will have to make the change to go organic or the next generation of buyers will make the decision for them. This not only means reducing the number of antibiotics used during rearing but also changing the food animals eat and ensuring they are properly cared for throughout their lives. As such, animal health jobs are likely to be a popular career choice for many millennials.
Technology is already changing the traditional image of farming
The image of a weather-beaten old man in a flat cap tending to his crops in the field is what comes to mind when most people think of a farmer. But today's farmer is just as likely to be found behind a computer as he/she is to be in the field. Technology is already changing the way farms operate, with remote controlled tractors, drones and even robots commonplace. Over the next decade, this trend looks set to continue and will make the industry more appealing to tech-savvy millennials.
In the near future tractors will be able to plough fields without the aid of human hands and with the next generation of farmers coming to the table with coding skills it is likely a whole new generation of apps will be developed to help with the efficient running of the farm. What if a tractor can survey weather reports to decide on the best time to plant rapeseed oil. What if that time is 2am? On a traditional farm it wouldn’t get done, but on tomorrow's farm it will be done by 4am. Tomorrow's farm will not only be more sustainable and environmentally friendly, it will be more efficient and profitable as well.
Millennials want to change the world one field at a time
Today’s millennials not only have a strong entrepreneurial spirit they also have a yearning desire to change the world. It is not just about profit for them, they want things to improve for everyone in the community. This is what makes farming a particularly attractive career for many millennials, much more so than the previous generation who largely turned their backs on the profession. No other career can give them the kind of long-term job satisfaction that a career in agriculture can.
All these things considered, the future looks bright for all types of agriculture as new technology and a highly motivated workforce change the profession far beyond anything we see today. Tomorrow's farmers will be tech-savvy, well paid and have great job satisfaction, while our food will be healthier and more environmentally sustainable. It is clear then that there has never been a better time for young people to consider a career in farming and agriculture.
Agricultural Recruitment Specialists lead the UK and the world in agricultural, horticultural and farming recruitment. If you're looking for a new role, or are simply just interested in what might be available to you, please send us your CV to info@agriRS.co.uk and one of our experienced team of consultants will call you to discuss your options.
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