I struggle with giving my kids directions on career choices, but I really would like to see them farm for the simple reason that I believe it's a great way to raise a family, and long-term there is a real future in not only owning land (and the water that goes with it), but also in producing food and fiber.
What a change from my parents' attitudes and the attitudes of farm kids as recently as my generation. My parents and and those of most of the kids I grew up with wanted us off the farm. Parents (mine included) would not help young farmers get started and in fact discouraged me — telling me to stay in school. Sometimes I think they were right — but not often.
I am keeping an open mind and telling my kids to pursue their dreams, whatever those dreams are, but letting them know I'll try and keep the farming opportunity available to them if possible. (This may mean adjusting my farm to growing a variety of crops and continuing to keep an open mind about technology.) One thing is for sure: I want them to finish college first, regardless of whether or not they choose a career in agriculture.
One other note: My kids are just getting old enough to be a big help on the farm and (until recently) I would often drive to town (population 1,500) and look for kids willing to help with harvest — like my Dad did when we were too young to work. Back when I was in school, you would have to turn some kids away since almost everyone wanted to work and make a buck. However, nowadays I can't find many willing to work. At one point, my wife Cindy and I had alfalfa to harvest and offered $2 above minimum wage to help pick it up and often got laughed at. I would have jumped at this offer as a kid! These days it seems most kids are better educated than we were, but are missing a work ethic. I actually had a kid tell me on one occasion, “Why would I work when my mom will give me money?”
My point is: Education is important, but so is a work ethic. We are so focused on technology that often we forget there is still work to be done. I tell my kids that I want them educated — well educated — but I truly believe the people who will rule in their generation will have the combination of education and work ethic. Educated, smart people will be a dime-a-dozen in the next generation, but I believe those willing to work will be a rare commodity indeed.
Steve Newsom is a cotton farmer from Hockley County, Texas.