Millennials are the talk of the town these days. Employers are trying to figure out how work with them, marketers are trying to figure how to sell to them, and the rest of us are trying to figure out who they are. Unlike previous generations that fit into nice demographic segments, such as baby boomers, there is not any general agreement who makes up the Millennial generation. Most experts agree they are post generation X but, after that, things get fuzzy. In his book The Lucky Few, author Elwood Carlson called Millennials the “New Boomers” (born 1983 to 2001), because of the upswing in births after 1983 and finishing with the “political and social challenges” that occurred after the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. Whoever they are, this group, more than any other, is having a definite impact on agriculture.
William A. Draves and Julie Coates, authors of Nine Shift: Work, Life and Education in the 21st Century, write that Millennials have distinctly different behaviors, values, and attitudes from previous generations as a response to the technological and economic implications of the Internet. Some of these values include confidence, tolerance, a sense of entitlement, and narcissism. This generation also is showing much different eating habits and food preferences than previous generations, and they possess some very strong and different views on agriculture and food production.
Millennials are really into food. The popularity of food cable channels and the rise of celebrity chefs are due in large part to Millennials. Fresh is a much bigger issue for Millennials as is a wide diversity of foods, with items from many different cultures being included. Millennials also have some very strong views on farming.
During a recent panel discussion I attended, a group of Millennials, all of whom had some connection to agriculture, discussed how their peers view farming and food. Emily Best said, “For the most part, they know that farming is hard work, it involves long hours, you work outside, but I don’t they really get what farming is all about.” She added that there is also a good deal of romanticism about farming.
Millennials have been among the sharpest critics of modern ag technology, especially biotechnology. “I don’t think they know a lot. I think they would like to think they do, but they really don’t,” said Ashley Reaver. “They have never grown anything themselves, but will be the first to jump down your throat about how the food you produce is bad for the environment.” She said most Millennials know a little about a lot of things and, thus, they think they are experts on agriculture.
Greg Peterson, one of the Peterson brothers whose farm videos are an internet sensation, said being against big ag is sort of a fad, “Millennials like to have a cause, even if they don’t know what that means.”
Millennials have had and will continue to have an impact on agriculture both from a public opinion and a food consumption point. Their attitudes, misconceptions, and eating habits are changing the marketplace. Agriculture must reach this generation and connect with them on the issues of sustainability, farm technology, and the environment. The techniques of the past will not be effective with this generation of different attitudes and short attention spans. The best people to develop this new approach are not us boomers or even Xers, but other Millennials. If we can reach this generation, they can be agriculture’s best friends. Fail to reach them, and they will be our sharpest critics.
By Gary Truitt