Commentary: YF&R offers opportunities to young agricultural leaders

Issue Date: June 20, 2012
By Jamie Johansson
The Young Farmers and Ranchers program offers professional-development and networking opportunities. Here, YF&R State Committee member Chris Garmon of Ventura County, left, talks with Daniel Suenram of Yolo County during this year’s YF&R Leadership Conference.
Jamie Johansson

It's a special privilege to share with you a little about the outstanding Young Farmers and Ranchers program we have in California. Designed for young agriculturalists between the ages of 18 and 35, the program has helped many of us find our way in Farm Bureau and in farming and ranching as a whole.

I began my experience with YF&R as a newly appointed director on the Butte County Farm Bureau board who was challenged to join YF&R and revitalize our local group. My involvement started me on a path that led to being chairman of the California Farm Bureau Federation YF&R committee and eventually to serving today as CFBF second vice president.

As the business climate in California becomes more competitive and as the farming and ranching way of life experiences increased regulation and tough decision making, our young farmers and ranchers will have to adapt quickly in order to remain in the business of agriculture. Our future leaders will have to be savvy, hardworking businessmen and women, and they'll have to be creative problem solvers who aren't afraid of taking risks and doing things a little differently. They'll have to think outside the box.

It's fortunate for us that our YF&R group includes dynamic young leaders who are doing just that. You'll meet some of these young leaders in a special YF&R section

Throughout the years, California YF&Rs have earned a reputation as innovative, independent leaders with a strong commitment to the farming and ranching way of life. These young agriculturalists have tackled consumer education and public perception of agriculture by virtue of the way they've carved a niche in the business. From selling their farm products at farmers markets and through community-supported agriculture programs, to direct sales to restaurants and the public, these entrepreneurs are finding their place in agriculture, even if full-time production may not be in the cards just yet.

In a survey of almost 100 YF&R leaders here in California, we found 68 percent have full-time jobs outside of production agriculture. Some work in affiliated businesses, some are able to work in production part-time and some have spouses who keep them tied to farming, but only a third of our young leaders are able to enter farming and ranching full time upon graduation. Instead of automatically joining the family farm—if there is one to join—these dynamic leaders strike out on their own. They are diversifying their experiences, building their own businesses while working for others at the same time, and are taking advantage of living in the No. 1 agricultural state in the nation by pursuing employment with a top farm or ranch business in California.

We also found that 90 percent of these leaders are between the ages of 23 and 35, 62 percent are unmarried and 77 percent hold a bachelor's degree or higher.

With this new information in hand and with a quick review of the technological time we live in, which makes it easier to text, email and Facebook rather than meet face to face, it's fair to ask: What can the association structure of advocacy organizations offer this next generation and how do we reach and cultivate these young leaders today?

Farm Bureau has withstood the test of time because we have adapted to the changing world. We know these young leaders are not necessarily going back to their home counties once they graduate from college. That means we must offer opportunities through programs like YF&R to provide networking and professional connections for newcomers to an area. Professional-development opportunities and a variety of ways to be involved are key to seeing young leaders gravitate to Farm Bureau and join the organization.

Additionally, with dynamic young business leaders, we must offer an opportunity for leadership and a chance to advocate and make a difference utilizing technology, social media, webinars and a wide mix of other ways of doing business that might not look like how we've done things before.

At the heart of the matter remains one solid avenue for involvement that transcends generations, genders and education levels. We simply must ask these young leaders to join us in our mission to preserve the farming and ranching way of life for them and their children. When we do, I think we'll all be surprised at how enthusiastic of a response we receive.

Speaking from experience as a first-generation farmer, my big opportunity in agriculture came because someone believed in me and challenged me to make a difference. Let's now challenge our young people to make a difference and allow them the opportunity to be successful leaders.

(Jamie Johansson grows olives and makes olive oil in Oroville, and serves as second vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted at

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