Are we truly connecting? That was a question Bradley Wolter, president and CEO of The Maschhoffs, brought up last week during the Carthage Veterinary Service Virtual Swine Health and Production Conference, and it has stuck with me.
Wolter was referring to our industry's youth, those who are heavily engaged in agriculture through FFA, 4-H, National Junior Swine Association, collegiate livestock judging programs and Block and Bridle clubs and more. With more than 700,000 in FFA and more than 12,000 in the NJSA alone, it seems like pork production systems today should have a steady supply of competent human capital. But are these youth seeing the industry opportunities after their time in the showring is through?
"I'm always inspired by these truly talented young leaders. You see the essence of leadership, you see that the programs they've been engaged with develop primordial leadership competencies at a fairly early age, but what I routinely find is that they aren't all that closely engaged with, what I would define as the modern pork industry, and aware of the opportunities that are in front of them within our industry," Wolter says. "So, I'm left scratching my head, asking myself, 'are we supporting the development of these competencies and providing them with the vision of what could be a compelling career inside our sector, or are we just rewarding excellence in the sportsmanship of show pens?' "
If these youth view the animal husbandry experience only as a sport, Wolter questions if the industry is doing enough to show these youth the financial and professional opportunities in the business.
"We actually have a bright future for these young people that are involved in these animals, getting exposed in the basic competency of husbandry early on," Wolter says. "We offer a tremendous future for them."
Wolter gives the example of a young man, Dalton, an FFA president, who began working for Wolter's family's cattle enterprise six years ago. Of course, Wolter also wanted to share his passion for pigs, expose him to The Maschhoffs business and show him the various opportunities. But Dalton already had his own perceptions about the industry.
- "I don't want to be trapped in these concrete barns."
- "I am going to be sweating my buns off with those pigs."
- "What would I do there?"
- "I don't know about all those showers."
- "I don't know that I want to do the same thing every day."
Dalton ultimately ended up back in the Wolter's beef business, but The Maschhoffs executive says the experience taught him something.
"My conclusion is that I think we've got to provide more positive exposure to pork production at an early age," Wolter says. "We've got to bridge this gap of perception versus reality in terms of what our industry is and what it has to offer our young people."