Zirnhelt: Young leaders needed

A lot is at stake if new and young farmers don’t step up and take over, writes David Zirnhelt

David Zirnhelt

Observer Contributor

A discussion broke out at a local cattlemen’s meeting one evening this week. It had to do with the theme of who will look after our organizations when some of us are gone — retired, incapacitated, for whatever reason. There are songs about this theme regarding the house, the farm…

Opportunities exist for young people to be mentored. 4-H remains a wonderful training ground for new leadership. There are positions on Boards of Directors of farm organizations.

There will be four summer jobs coming up for students from the area working with Cariboo Cattlemen’s, thanks to a federal summer employment program.

A lot is at stake if new and young farmers don’t step up and take over, especially when few are standing in the way, and rather they are welcomed.

One reason Cariboo Cattlemen’s has a part-time co-ordinator is to support and amplify the efforts of the volunteers in the cattle industry.

It has been said before that the consolidation of ranches leaves fewer owner operators locally and fewer participants in our organizational efforts on behalf of small- and medium-sized farms and ranches.

Need I say that food security is best served by locally responsible and vested small farms. However, size may matter when it comes to the organizations because they represent many individuals, all of whom vote, or can speak to government and consumers.

Membership is dwindling in many local farm organizations. For example, many of the local cattle organizations no longer exist, and some consolidation is happening.

There are issues which need addressing: building trust with consumers, holding government to account for impractical regulations, furthering our knowledge about soils and crops so we can farm and ranch cost-effectively, and supporting increasingly isolated families working on the land.

Young farmers have young families and need to keep balance in their work and family lives. Thus, they are challenged to serve a broader community of like folks and businesses.

However, I say, there is a close relationship between helping oneself and helping one’s neighbours. After all, we are scarcely competitors with each other locally, provincially, even nationally. Our competitors are other regions of the world, like Brazil and to some extent the U.S.

Sharp pencils (in the manager’s hand) in order to know where we make or lose money is one important characteristic of a successful business. Another important quality is that successful businesses in farming have a plan and a practice for keeping up on developments, like understanding soil health and its relationship to the bottom line.

It is important to say that positions taken to government and to consumers about our ranches and farms business environment need to be well researched. Concerns to be addressed include water needs, support for farming strategies and products, and financing.

Isn’t it crazy that an allowable expense in one of the income stabilizing programs, Agristability, does not include soil testing, yet other government arms require it more and more for nutrient management plans.

My conclusion here, is that the next generation of farmers and ranchers, more than ever, need to take charge of their future through their organizations.

David Zirnhelt is a rancher and member of the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association. He is also chair of the Advisory Committee for the Applied Sustainable Ranching Program at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake.

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