The Next Generation

ReachOut: The Next Generation from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Mike Zwingman

by Mike Zwingman

I have two daughters. My oldest wants to be a veterinarian, preferably at a zoo. My youngest is young enough to still think that her dad’s job is just about the coolest thing on the block because he gets to play in the mud.

Regular readers know that legacy is a common theme in this article. In our industry, that used to mean passing the farm on down, usually to a son. But times change. Today, sometimes it’s a daughter we pass the farm along to. Sometimes our kids—sons or daughters—don’t want it. Sometimes, they’d rather be a vet or a scientist. And that’s all good. Even as we’ve experienced a challenging shift in the economics of our industry, we’ve experienced too a resurgence of interest and import. We’ve broadened the invitation to participate to engineers, mathematicians, coders, scientists of all sorts so that we might meet our big charge, which is to feed a world population.

So when I think about legacy now, I think of my responsibility to engage my daughters in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The average age of a worker in our industry (producer, agronomist, etc) is about 56, 57. We need a new generation of talented men and women to take our places when we age out, and that new generation will need more skill and education in the STEM fields than ever before.

Thirty years ago, how a product like Ascend works, or what downforce we need on our planter—we didn’t care about these things because we didn’t know enough to know to care. But, like I said, times change. Advances in science and technology have illuminated for us the importance of knowing such things. Agronomy is changing from an artisan field to a scientific one and STEM education is more important than ever to the future of the discipline (though for my money, art will always be part and parcel of the work).

iStock_000012707109MediumIt’s all actually pretty exciting, and part of my legacy is to pass that excitement onto this next generation of men and women. Just think about all of the advances we’ve seen over the past decade alone! And this, friends, this is only the edge of the awesome technology and science of the future. We’re witnessing the breaking of an important knowledge base out of its original paradigm, which was one of limited distribution. Information today is more present and available to us than ever before, and this trend will only continue.

And to be where we are as this happens! We live in the greatest lab one could hope for! Where better might we bring together art and science, field and lab, classroom and real world? We are at the center of it. The very center.

When I was a 17 year old entering college, agronomy did not make for a cool major. The industry was slumping. A career in ag wasn’t even suggested to me, let alone encouraged. Yet here I am, and though we’ve enjoyed a prosperous few years in agribusiness, as the kiddos get ready to go back to school in a few short weeks, I recognize that the atmosphere around our industry right now is quite similar to when I was 17.

We need to encourage our kids. If not into ag, then into STEM, where perhaps they might participate in our industry, even if Blue-Box-e1409667504172obliquely, as mechanical engineers, software designers, computer programmers, etc. The careers that contribute to our future, that advance and perpetuate our industry, that work toward that great goal of feeding a growing world population—these careers are unlimited and offer unlimited potential. The need for “scientists,” for technically-capable individuals is great, and the payoff for encouraging our kids to become such individuals is greater.

So you can bet your morning coffee that the daughters Zwingman will be getting their fair share of summer camps, science classes, and trips into the fields with dear old dad. And while I’m at it, I’ve got some high fives for all the other kids I come across who nerd out over bugs and bats and Battlebots. Boy or girl, city or country, come all. We need you.