Diane KarrIn honor of today being National Ag Day, it is fitting to talk about the future of agriculture.

As I wrap up tax and budget season, I think of my 14 year old son. He wants to be a farmer.

[He’d be scarred for life if he knew I was writing about him. So let’s not tell him!]

How will he learn everything he needs to know to be a farmer? He’s already helping with irrigation, harvest season, and cattle. He’ll gradually absorb the practical side of farming. He’ll probably work all the new technological gadgets with ease. He doesn’t mind getting up early and working hard. This is not the part that worries me.

diane karr tomorrow's farmerHow will he develop relationships with bankers, brokers, agronomists, insurance agents, landlords, and equipment salesmen? I’m sure as he grows up, he’ll watch his Dad, and will listen and learn from these conversations. Still, this doesn’t worry me much either.

What scares me is this: How will he manage a farmer’s mountain of bookwork?

When corn is $8, everybody can make money. It’s how you make money at $4 corn [or less! GASP!] that keeps children and grandchildren in the game.

There’s an important step he can take to equip himself to farm successfully: get a college degree. It’s just a tool, but if used correctly, and sharpened with use, Mr. Corn Farmer and I believe that this is a highly important step in coming back to the farm and staying there. In fact, we’re going to make a college degree a requirement to coming back to our farm for a variety of reasons.

Right now, Mr. Athletic-Guitar-Playing-Honor-Student-Teenager-With-Headphones-Permanently-Attached-to-His-Head-and-Phone-In-Hand has a long way to go. He loves math. He has all the potential to do just fine in school. He has a few years before he has to think about college, but it’s already entering the back of my mind.

I hope that he will find a college where he can be exposed to people dramatically different than him, but yet find a group of friends where he feels right at home. I hope he can take enough accounting classes to do proper bookkeeping, calculate profit/loss and cost/benefit analysis, and understand how to be organized for his tax professional. I hope he studies enough ag economics so he can understand the markets and know when (and when not) to take a grain broker’s advice. I hope he learns what his banker will expect when asking for a cash flow budget. I hope that he knows what his financial ratios and trends look like before he ever talks to a banker. I hope he gains knowledge in agronomy and animal science to supplement what he has already learned from working with his Dad.

[Oh yeah, I hope he has fun. Lots of it. But not too much. And goes to church on Sunday!]

I hope someday he will return to the farm full of optimism, ideas, confidence, maturity, and energy.

He’ll need other tools. A college degree is nothing without faith, luck, common sense, communication skills, and a work ethic. Of course, there are plenty of successful farmers without college degrees. But, maybe the markets, the weather, or his health won’t go as expected. Maybe he’ll want to shift gears and change his path away from farm, and if so, having a strong educational background will help him do that.

We farmers like tools. Most of us have a shop full of them. Having another tool – like a college education – has been just as helpful to Mr. Corn Farmer and me through the years when markets and weather have made farm management more challenging. It’s also a tool we also want our children to have and be able to use.

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