Beef producers are an eclectic group of people operating in such diverse climates and financial conditions that no two operations are the same. One doesn’t need a doctorate to be a farmer or rancher, but the vocation does require a love of nature and common sense, tenacity, hard work, foresight and the ability to multi-task.

I often speak on this topic during my talks with young people. And I’m always encouraged by their eagerness to pursue careers in production agriculture, despite the huge demands of this calling. In fact, I recently wrote about this in a BEEF Daily blog post entitled, “Heck Yeah, I Want To Be A Farmer,” to which I was surprised to receive a reader comment with a strong opposing view:

Reader Comment:
“Many are concerned about the image of farmers and ranchers. Perhaps we have included too much of the ‘agriculture industry’ in that image. Young people may desire to have a career in agriculture, but what do they consider agriculture? Those selling feed and writing magazine articles while also managing cattle aren’t farmers or ranchers; they’re salesmen and journalists working for companies that exist because of farmers and ranchers.

“Young people who go into such careers and tout themselves as being in agriculture are fooling themselves. If you want to be in agriculture, why didn’t you go back to the ranch to earn your living? Likely it was because it was too much work and didn’t support the lifestyle you wanted. That’s fine and certainly your choice, but you are not ‘in’ agriculture.

“I’m not saying salesmen and journalists aren’t important jobs, but we taint the image of farmers and ranchers by including others who certainly are not. If a young person wants to be involved in the family business, they should be encouraged to do so and not put it off until the next generation is gone. Otherwise go to town, get a job and don’t pretend to be a farmer or rancher.”

I responded that while I appreciated the reader’s insights, I disagreed with her narrow definition of a farmer or rancher. Let’s face it, less than 2% of American citizens are involved in agriculture today, so what’s wrong with broadening the traditional definition?

Is the rancher married to a nurse who brings home a paycheck and the family’s benefits not still a rancher? Is the college graduate who studied journalism and supplements her escalating cattle costs with freelance writing not still in the cattle business? Or, is the feed salesman who’s saving money to buy some land to expand his operation, not still a rancher? Is the beef producer who judges county fairs on the weekends, or diversifies his operation with wildlife, photography or tourism, still not a beef producer?

If we think in broader terms, the young people who hope to one day work in production agriculture will have a chance to realize their dreams. Maybe those operations won’t look the same as 50 years ago, but with today’s average U.S. farmer exceeding 55 years of age, we have lots of very big shoes to fill. And, if it takes some supplemental income to get on the right track, I don’t see that as something to be ashamed of.
We shouldn’t turn our backs on those who work or think differently. We need to encourage them to forge ahead through the obstacles to become the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

BEEF readers, I welcome any additional thoughts on this topic. What is your definition of a farmer or rancher? How do you make your operation tick? If you haven’t checked out the BEEF Daily blog before, there are conversations to participate in every day. Shoot me an email at amanda.nolz@penton.com, and I will get you signed up for this online newsletter.

Amanda Nolz is a South Dakota rancher and freelancer who blogs Monday through Thursday at beefmagazine.com.