Meet Amber Roberts. Amber grew up in Great Falls. When she was young, she decided the best way to be a “real Montanan” was to raise a sheep. She joined 4-H and raised a lamb. In high school, she joined the Future Farmers of America and now she is an “Ag Ambassador” for the College of Agriculture at Montana State University.

We got to hear Amber talk about the challenges that the next generation of farmers and ranchers are facing at the Ag Summit in Great Falls a few weeks ago – and after the summit, we picked her brain a little more about what young farmers need. Below are her words — and some thoughts from Prairie Populist:

Ag Education Opportunities

“College students aren’t informed about what they might do with an ag degree if they’re not going straight back to a farm. People think they need a farm to pursue an ag degree, and this acts as a deterrent for entering the college. This generation has a big drive, with a need for their work to be filled with passion and excitement. Young people are now looking for a purpose more than baby boomers and Gen X. But what young people should know is you can find any of those things in an ag degree. You want to do architecture? Great, we have a landscape design degree! You want to do engineering? Perfect, we a have a financial engineering degree! Anything you want to do, you can do in ag!”

The more young people with a good education in agriculture, the easier it will be to have qualified capable people taking over the agriculture industry in the next couple years.  We need to do more to promote ag education opportunities across our state.

Local Hospitals and Other Amenities

“Opportunities in rural areas! If you have to drive 50 miles to see a doctor or get groceries, it’s not appealing to go back to the farm. We need to have basic amenities and towns nearby. People want to be a part of a community. And as small towns shrink and cities grow, it’s less and less appealing to return home to the farm.”

Makes total sense. People don’t want to try to start a family in a place where they’ll have to drive for an hour-and-a-half to get somewhere to deliver their first child. Rural hospitals and health care are vital to the success of the next generation of farmers.  The powers-that-be in Washington that are hawking these health care bills probably aren’t too concerned with how they might impact rural hospitals out here.

Access to Technology

“Ag has always been an industry to quickly embrace technological advances and it will continue to. Now you can buy a cheap drone from Walmart with a camera and find your cows in a fraction of the time it would have taken a decade ago. Or you can check your fields from above and make sure there are no dead spots. Tech will only grow in its use in ag.”

Technology is changing the way the world works, and farming is no exception. Our farmers and ranchers have always been innovative and resourceful in using new technology to make their businesses grow. We need to make sure they have access to these technologies so that our Montana farmers can stay competitive and keep providing jobs for our communities.

We’ve heard what ranchers and farmers across the state have been saying-it’s important to keep our kids here carrying on family traditions, maintaining our businesses and working landscapes, and upholding our values. And we’ve seen how important it is to keep the next generation of ag a part of the conversation. So let’s keep talking. And let’s keep working toward a future where our kids have good job opportunities. There’s no reason we shouldn’t expect this for them.