Restoring pride top priority for Generation Z farmers – EURACTIV.com
Generation Z – those born between 1997 and 2015 – are faced with the future paradox of agriculture: it is an exciting time to be a farmer with many opportunities opened up by innovation, but the life of a farmer has never never been so complicated.
Describing the next generation of farmers is an exercise that has occupied agribusiness experts.
Last December, the Joint Research Center (JRC) of the Commission’s Scientific Service published the Prospective study “Farmers of the future”, which aims to identify and explore the possible future professional roles of farmers by 2040.
Two camps emerged from the analysis: on the one hand, “tech-savvy farmers” who, in the words of the report, are “above-ground and high-tech”, as well as “biotechnology entrepreneurs”; on the other hand, we are witnessing the rise of nature-based farmers such as the so-called “regenerative” farmers who are returning to their roots.
Speaking at a recent event, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Wageningen University and renowned food expert Louise Fresco had no doubts that future farmers would fall into the category of food experts. high technology.
But according to her, the real aspect that will have an impact in the training of the Generation Z farmer is the renewed central importance that the agricultural sector will take in the economic fabric in the coming years.
“Without exaggeration, it can be said that agriculture is one of the most exciting sectors of the future because of the petrochemicals from the fossil fuel industry and produced by agriculture, because of food, because of its landscape management, but also because of its role in a circular economy, ”she said.
At the same time, a wide range of demands placed on farmers by the EU’s ambitious Green Deal increase labor complexity and uncertainty for agricultural workers.
“Sometimes I think the agricultural sector is asked to solve everything,” Fresco said, adding that, however, these demands for sustainability and food safety and environmental protection are now seen as obvious.
For her, we must help young farmers to overcome this.
“It’s terrible to be in an industry where people feel like you inherently can’t do the right thing. Restoring the pride of agriculture, especially animal husbandry, will therefore be a real challenge, ”she said.
The innovation generation Z needs
Previously viewed with skepticism, precision farming is gaining more and more importance among farmers and now includes a range of different tools, from the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence to new branches. such as fine tuning or precision genetics.
“It really depends on the type of farm you have,” said Alexander Bernhuber, Austrian Christian Democrat MEP and young beef cattle farmer, adding that he frequently uses his phone in his work and especially health apps. animal.
“I am really impressed with what has been done in recent years, especially in the dairy sector, by the number of new applications and by the number of new startups that have sprung up,” he said.
The animal health industry has evolved quite rapidly, shifting from a preventive approach through vaccines and antibiotics to an increased listening and understanding of the needs of breeders and veterinarians.
“We understand that the livestock sector is heading towards an era that I would call digitally improved agriculture,” said Roxane Feller, general secretary of the European association representing animal medicine manufacturers AnimalhealthEurope.
According to her, Gen Z will follow this connected health approach where animal health will not be a stand-alone issue and this will require integrated solutions, for example, to effectively use data.
“Farmers are creative people”
Among the EU member states, little Estonia is widely regarded as a great digital leader, which has earned it the nickname e-Stonia. Kerli Ats, a young farmer at the head of the Estonian Farmers’ Federation, explained that the agricultural sector is no exception.
“One of my goals on breeding day is to use a variety of digital tools that allow me to monitor the herd in real time,” she said, adding that she could analyze the movements and behavior of his animals, assess their health and activity. .
Among the innovative new solutions that have entered the market to help regularly monitor animal welfare are drones and 3D cameras while other technologies help farmers make better management decisions.
“We get a lot of data and it can help us a lot if we talk about these goals from the Green Deal,” said MEP Bernhuber.
However, the use of data is a very sensitive subject. “Who has access to the data is, for me, something very important and should always be taken into account,” he said, adding that the owner of the data should ultimately be the farmers themselves.
Innovation could improve farm management, animal welfare, productivity, ensure better traceability, but it can also support farmers in their day-to-day lives.
“All of these tools will also help farmers go on vacation every now and then and get rid of all the burdens they had in the past. It’s a huge challenge to be a young farmer, ”said Louise Fresco.
However, she said policymakers are too hesitant to take risks on certain innovations when they need to be more daring to try something.
“Farmers are creative people, and they need space to experiment, they have to find the best ways to do things and there is no other field as regulated as agriculture,” he said. – she concluded.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]