Viewpoint

A coming generational difference

We all know that it isn’t fair to judge individuals by the general attitudes of their peers. As a Baby Boomer, I’ve hired and worked with people from Generation X, Millenni­als and now Generation Z. What­ever qualities these generations are known for—good or bad—I’ve met outstanding, hardworking individ­uals from each of them. My expe­rience has taught me to favor the attributes of the person above any social summary of their generation.

Even so, it’s hard to deny that there are generational shifts in thinking. So, it’s worth considering that whatever changes are coming from Generation Z, they’re coming fast. By next year, Generation Z, people born after 1996, is projected to make up a fifth of the U.S. work­force. In fact, Gen Z represents 26% of the world’s population, making it the largest current generation. Other generations by population are Baby Boomers at 24%, Millen­nials at 22%, Generation X at 20% and the aging Greatest Generation at 9%.

The news is full of surveys and predictions about Generation Z. Some of the statistics have caught my attention for what they might mean for MFA and agriculture. Here are a couple from a study by The Center for Generational Kinetics released earlier this year.

  1. More than 50% of Gen Z reads at least three ratings or reviews be­fore making a first-time purchase.

They put that kind of trust in their peers to help make buying decisions, but those peers aren’t necessarily friends or family. This is a new phenomenon brought on by online platforms and social me­dia. Think of Amazon reviews. It’s true the platform is new, but some things are trans-generational. On this count, I would tell you that at MFA, we understand that perfor­mance drives reputation. That’s how we are measured by any group of peers. Really, it always has been, but we can’t lose sight of its new importance.

  1. More than 30% of Gen Z feels uncomfortable if they are away from their phone for as little as 30 minutes.

This probably doesn’t surprise you if you’ve paid attention to young people lately, but it does show that platforms of immediacy such as texting or social media are an important way for members of Gen Z to communicate and stay connect­ed. We’ve already seen that trend grow in how we communicate at MFA both internally and with our customers. To guess the next plat­form customers will adopt can’t be the goal. Could you have guessed Snapchat 10 years ago? At MFA, we will evolve with our customers’ preferences to find new ways to communicate with them.

While it’s a little older by now, another Gen Z survey, this one from Osborn and Barr, provided insight about generational changes for farm families. Results from that survey showed members of Generation Z have different expectations for farm succession. There was a difference between the parents’ generation and the aspiring farmer. Among parents, 71% believe at least one of their children will want to take over the farming business someday. Just 54% of the 18-to 22-year-olds who grew up on those farms have indicated a desire to take it over, though. That may change in time, but it’s proba­bly worth a family discussion now.

Many of the survey participants said that even if they don’t farm, they intend to get a degree in an ag-related field as a way to stay in agriculture. That’s good news for employers like MFA, but something that might not be demographically sustainable for our current farm structure. The Osborn and Barr survey combined all the previous generations into a single cohort to compare with Generation Z. In general, Gen Z has a more favorable view of technology than previous generations with more positive perspectives on biotechnology and advanced genetic engineering.

When it comes to brand names in agriculture, Gen Z appears to be less loyal. As I mentioned, they fa­vor peer input for decision making.

Many of these findings make sense as technology continues to change the way we farm and com­municate. Some, like the growing reliance on peer-driven decision making, seem less obvious.

Here is what is clear. Com­panies like MFA will need to be forward-thinking and perfor­mance-driven if we intend to serve the next generation of farmers. I can tell you we will. It’s not just a goal; it’s our vision.

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