It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that what we’re doing right now in the dairy industry isn’t working. If it were, family farms wouldn’t be selling out at such an alarming rate. If it were, we wouldn’t be working more than 80 hours every week while still not being able to pay our bills at the end of each month. If it were working, people would be drinking milk. Our tactics need to change, and I think that needs to start in the boardroom.
Millennials are the generation with all the questions. Social media-using, podcast-loving, skinny jean-wearing millennials. The problem, in all of agriculture, is that most of our leadership is Generation X or older and struggles to relate to this group of individuals. Though their experiences have value, do they have the right experiences to effectively market our dairy products to younger generations? Do they know what will catch the eye of selfie-taking, Uber-grabbing, instant gratification-wanting millennials? If not, how do we fix that?
The answer is simple, yet difficult. Young farmers must get involved. Simple, right? Speaking as a young farmer, it’s not as simple as it seems. No matter how we got into farming, most of us are either managing or co-managing the farm while starting families of our own. We’re working long hours while still trying to have a social life. Our time is precious to us, and we don’t want to waste it.
Equally distressing is the intimidation factor. Coming onto a board full of people who have been together for years or have years of experience in the industry is scary. Speaking from personal experience, I have been almost afraid to ask a dumb question or even speak for fear of being looked down on. We don’t have the connections of some board members, and because of the generation gap, our ideas may seem eccentric or be undervalued.
But you know what? Our ideas and voices have value, too. I may wear barn clothes more often than I wear suits, but I reach tens of thousands of people weekly on social media with my pro-farming messages because I know what they want to hear and how they want to hear it.
To invite the change our industry deserves, we should be attacking this problem from both angles. Current board members need to be open and encouraging to young farmers, reaching out to those who may not think they have what is needed to serve. At the same time, millennial dairy farmers need to be willing to make the sacrifices needed to get our voices where they need to be.
Guys, I can’t read another Facebook post about another dairy selling the cows that have been in the family for five generations. I can’t go another five years wondering, at the end of each, if I’ll be milking cows at the end of the next. I’d rather spend all day in the barn than the boardroom, but maybe some of us need to step up in one so the rest of us can enjoy the other.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.