ENTREPRENEURSHIP / MAR. 05, 2014
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Legendary Investor Urges Money Seekers To Become Farmers

For the past few decades, youth have been encouraged by public officials, school administrators and their parents to obtain a university or college education in the hopes of greener pastures. Since the Great Recession began, young people have had a difficult time in today’s labor market and it seems graduates with Bachelor’s degrees, MBAs and liberal arts majors have become a dime a dozen.

The unemployment rate for the “scarred generation” in the United States is officially close to 20 percent, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Across the globe, particularly in Europe, the unemployment rate is higher and governments have responded, including by suspending the minimum wage for youth and providing businesses with grants in order to hire young people.

What’s the reason for such a high jobless number for youth? There are a variety of reasons, but most experts list a paucity of soft skills (problem-solving, time management, dedication and loyalty), new grads unwilling to accept entry-level positions, a lack of jobs available and employers seeking job candidates with experience.

One United Kingdom-based poll even found that negative attitudes amongst young people are causing human resource professionals and hiring managers to close the door on these applicants.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month, Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola, predicted economic and societal collapse if young people can’t find employment opportunities. Essentially, Kent says if youth can’t find work in their country than upheaval can be expected unless government and the private sector take necessary measures.

“Seventy-five million [young] people [globally] are unemployed, do not have the opportunity to work at the moment. That’s bigger than France. It’s a terrible thing when people are coming into the workforce in their late teens and early 20s and don’t have opportunities to create value,” said Kent. “If we’re not successful in creating better opportunities, I think there’s a real danger that the social peace and fabric of the world is in danger. It’s the obligation of government, it’s the obligation of civil society to come together to find solutions.”

What’s the solution for youth? One word: farming.

Jim Rogers, contrarian investment guru and chairman of Rogers Holdings, told BBC Radio on Friday that the number of farmers is in short supply and aging – the average age of a farmer in the United States is 58. This means there are plenty of opportunities for youth who are looking to attain a career in this field. If you’re young, want to make a lot of money and have a secure future then learn how to drive a tractor, says Rogers.

“Agriculture’s been a terrible business for 30 years. It is now beginning to get better. If you want to make a lot of money in the future, which many people do, you should learn to drive a tractor,” Rogers said. “Agriculture is going to be one of the most exciting businesses in the next 10 years.”

Rogers, the bestselling author of “Hot Commodities,” has been bullish on agriculture for the past several years and has repeatedly stated in numerous interviews that youthful individuals should begin a career in farming.

The important question is: is there any validity to Rogers’s suggestions? According to various data, government reports and media outlets, there most certainly is.

Since the early 20th century, a time when the U.S. was becoming industrialized and its youth started focusing on banking, business and law, farming has been on the decline. A report from the National Young Farmers' Coalition (NYFC) shows that between the years 1910 and 2007, the number of farmers dropped from six million to roughly two million. The number is is expected to drop significantly as about one-quarter of the country’s farmers will retire within the next 20 years.

Late last year, there was a noteworthy labor shortage for farmers in the West Coast. An article by the Associated Press cited farmers who were in dire need of workers to pick high-value crops, such as apples, grapes, pears and peppers.

The shortage of laborers as well as competition – some workers have walked off of jobs during the height of the crop season enticed by better pay or an easier job – has caused higher labor expenses, delay in harvests and less fruit and vegetables being picked. All of this has led farming incomes to substantially decrease; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes salaries for farmers have averaged to $47,000.

Why aren’t youth hitting the fields? There are many factors that turn off potential candidates. Some of them consist of not having the land to farm or the required capital due to exorbitant costs – the price per acre of farm land has doubled in the past decade to an average of $2,140. Also, since farming is the fourth most dangerous occupation in the U.S., health care is another major deterrent.

Some believe it’s also a headache to manage and operate a farm. According to the Economic Collapse Blog, the federal and several state governments continue to bludgeon the industry with added rules and regulations, which hurts small farmers – big business can handle increased red tape because they have the resources to maintain their operations.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a recent statement that there has been a small uptake in the number of younger farmers, but nothing considerable. “As folks age out of farming, it leaves fewer and fewer people potentially in these rural communities. We have to rebuild the middle,” said Vilsack.

In the future, according to Rogers, the farmers will be the ones driving the Lamborghinis and brokers who have left the finance industry will be driving the tractors.

Are you a farmer or thinking about transitioning to a career in farming? Share your concerns, suggestions and ideas in the comment section.

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