For farming to thrive it needs to attract the next generation of trailblazers to use their skills, knowledge and outside-the-box thinking in the pursuit of excellence.
To do that we need to understand what matters to that cohort of humanity and what might be holding them back from choosing food production over other career options.
But that doesn’t mean just looking at a list of traits and bending our current systems a little to fit them in.
We need to build new systems that are grounded in those values and give these people the best chance of success and fulfilment.
We need to look at food production through younger eyes and embrace the technologies that will help us evolve.
There are some fantastic programmes already underway that are doing just that.
The agribusiness curriculum developed by Kerry Allen at St Paul’s Collegiate School offers pupils across New Zealand the opportunity to get a taste of the many ways they can contribute to the primary sector.
Our own Ag&Ed initiative, relaunching next month with the support of the Ministry for Primary Industries, will also help support that search for new talent.
But the industry itself needs to work on its image.
In the marketing sector, consumers, communities and stakeholders are often given a persona that best represents the collective thinking of the group.
If we were to give our sector a persona, I doubt it would be one that many high school pupils would relate to.
Research tells us young people seek jobs with a purpose and that one of their primary concerns is climate change and the environment.
Yet if they turn on the radio they’ll hear farming leaders arguing that food producers are somehow exempt from playing their part. Lines from the Paris Accord are often quoted out of context to support this view.
That’s no way to welcome young people to our industry.
Last week NZX’s Julia Jones told the Women in Seed forum that it is time to rediscover our ambitions.
“We have lost ability to give the sense of hope for future generations to inspire confidence in change,” she said.
“You can’t slow change, it’s societal, it’s bigger than us. The more you fight change, the more you wear down. We need to listen to what the world is telling us.”
Jones has been a vital voice in farming leadership for a while, saying the things that need to be heard, yet she and other women are often subjected to ugly rhetoric and dog-whistles for daring to speak.
That needs to change.
It doesn’t mean that the voices of men, Generation X or the Baby Boomers should be silenced; what we’re after is a conversation that lets new speakers in.
It’s a fact of life that every generation has doubts about the next.
But it’s also true that those doubts have usually been proven wrong.
It’s called evolution and we’re doing it whether we like it or not.