The Knowledge Gap – Is agriculture entering a cycle of limited free thinkers?

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” – Benjamin Franklin


I would like to take credit for the above-noted quote, but for that, I owe Lance Woodbury (one of my facilitators at TEPAP). He used it as it relates to the benefits that family farms have where the next generation can experience every aspect of the business. I’m going to tie it into how it relates to what I have now tagged as “The Knowledge Gap”.


I have told this story many times before, but the reason I have the accounting designation I have today is due to my father. I still remember that day and how he apathetically told me “Get an education, there is no money in farming”. To be fair I had watched him, and my mother go through numerous down cycles and hard times when they might not have even known if we would be able to farm another year. Things got better and thanks to land appreciation they can enjoy a conservative retirement with much less stress. Nonetheless, I have a CPA designation and a long career in public and private accounting to show for it.


It hadn’t dawned on me until attending TEPAP that I was not alone. 


As I was conversing with my business partner after the week, I commented that some of my favourite presenters were well into their high sixties and even late seventies. It had dawned that even in education they were about to come to a transition issue. 


Much like the ageing farm population, academia in agriculture was also about to face this issue. We have a twenty-year gap in agriculture where production, academia, and many other faucets are about to lose a large knowledge base.


Don’t get me wrong here, many other great facilitators and speakers are coming into their own, but the average age is probably closer to forty than fifty. They are relevant to the new-age concepts and technologies in agriculture, but I fear that some of the basic business fundamentals built by individuals such as Danny Klinefelter and Dick Wittman are on the verge of being lost. 


Artificial Intelligence may be able to recreate what has already been done, but I believe we are a way away from it creating new and creative thought based on these concepts (I am ageing as well so I could be wrong on how fast AI is coming into its own).


Bringing it back full circle, we are also about to lose some of the hardest-working individuals in primary producer agriculture. 


I remember when I was young thinking that farming was not the job for me based on how my dad had to work. Open cabs, blood and dirt on the fingernails, high stress, and little output to show for it. My how the times have changed based on the farms I see today. Many of the owners and managers I work with barely get into a cab at all anymore. Not to say they don’t work hard; they just work differently. I see the ingrained teaching from the leaving generation as a lost art.


For me, the effect will be mentorship and guidance. I often like talking to the older generation because this is what drove me into the business fundamentals of agriculture. They have been preaching (maybe a strong word) that farms are businesses, and we need to treat them as such for many decades. 


Yet, as I look at most agriculture today there is still a long way to go. I find myself wondering once they have decided to exit academia and producer agriculture, where do I go to continue my lifelong learning? It worries me in a sense as there is a much larger gap than we think between what they know and how we operate today.


In the end, I understand that times change, and we need to adapt as an industry. It was just interesting to sit back and notice something happening that most don’t have time to comprehend or understand. 


We always think about transition as land and farm operations, not other aspects of the industry. For me, it has now become both as I work with many clients on transition and succession and try to work on myself through mentorship and continuous learning. I just sometimes lose a little sleep thinking how agriculture is about to lose the many individuals who created the way I see agriculture success today. I hope we all realize the gap that we are about to enter.