WHILE attending a recent graduation event at the University of Nebraska, I realized that as we congratulate the students on their success, we also silently begin to worry about their future in agriculture.
As producers, we continue to face an unprecedented number of challenges to our industry.
Worrying is natural, but is it necessary?
Instead of worrying and trying to project what lies ahead, we need to embrace the future of agriculture with the same level of passion as President Abraham Lincoln. He had no idea what the future would hold for America yet understood that agriculture and food production would always be at the heart of the country's growth.
In remarks to students graduating from the University of Nebraska's College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, Dr. Ronnie Green, vice president of the university and Harlan vice chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture & Natural Resources, congratulated them for choosing the most honorable profession: agriculture!
Green outlined the challenge before the graduates to produce food and other agricultural products needed to sustain the world. He reminded them about Lincoln's vision to create an affordable education system that included agriculture.
When Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862, a piece of that vision was carried out, creating a template for the land-grant university system.
Land-grant universities like the University of Nebraska continue to use that template to structure their education and research priorities. As the faculty and staff on the east campus were completing their work for 2013, Green noted that, as in years past, they were preparing for 2014 with a focus on 2015 and beyond.
Most likely, family members and friends used those same words to encourage the student when he or she was struggling with class assignments and just wanted to go home to farm. They know that working and preparing for the future have always been an important part of their own job description.
Later, while visiting with friends, most of whom have been leaders in commodity and producer organizations, I wondered aloud how many times some of us did chores, moved snow or checked wells a little early so we could be at events like the Salute to Graduates to show our support for the future of agriculture.
We agreed that it would be impossible to tally up those days and that we need to encourage the next generation to get involved in these groups.
Each of us knows how challenging it will be when the next generation has to walk to a barn in knee-deep snow to care for livestock or stand on the edge of a corn field wiped out by a hail storm. Hoping the rain will stop during planting and praying for rain during the growing season are part of the job description.
We also know that, despite the challenges, we take pride in being a part of the most honorable profession.
We recalled the days when some graduates scrubbed calves, washed pigs, trimmed sheep and swept the alleys at the county fair. Their enthusiasm was contagious, fueled by their homegrown passion for agriculture.
As is the case for most of us, our interest in agriculture was cultivated in the days when we tagged along with our parents or other family members, helping with chores, pulling weeds and driving tractors even when our feet didn't quite reach the pedals. Our vision for the future was much like that of Lincoln: We did not know what was coming next, but we knew it depended on farming and ranching.
Many years earlier, I remember listening to our graduate, my godson Kyle, share his piglet care expertise with the ladies at the bank. It was refreshing to hear him describe what had become a routine job in the barn from the viewpoint of a five-year-old. He knew the importance of animal care and was not afraid to divulge all the details of piglet processing from his point of view.
His words were a reminder that the next generation is always in the making, and we need to listen to them to cultivate their passion for agriculture.
The graduates walked confidently as they were recognized for their academic achievements. Thanks to the land-grant university system, these men and women are well equipped to start working full time in 2014 and to plan for 2015 and beyond.
It is up to us, the older generation, to support their vision, face challenges with them and pray that someday, they will be in our chairs supporting a new generation of students who will be beginning their career in the most honorable profession.
*Joy Philippi is a fourth-generation Nebraska farmer and pork producer and partners with her parents in Philippi Farms. She has been active in agricultural advocacy for many years and is a former president of the National Pork Producers Council and Nebraska Pork Producers Assn. and a past board member of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture.