‘Grey hair’ in agriculture: Opportunities in the making

It is no mistake that grey hair is becoming more and more common in the agricultural industry these days. Grey hair normally suggests a particular stereotype, but it can also be viewed as an opportunity.

The average age of the Minnesota farmer, as reported in the 2012 census, was 56.6 years of age, with 52 percent of farmers being over 55 years of age. It is most likely that, as farm numbers decrease and farm size increases, the average age of a Minnesota farmer will also increase.

As we see the average age of the Minnesota farmer climb, we also see the same situation in the industries that service and work with farmers. Do you know an ag lender or seed dealer with grey hair? Most likely the answer is yes.

The aging population in agriculture opens the door for opportunity. There are opportunities for knowledge transfer, relationship building, as well as networking. The agricultural industry as a whole is rapidly transitioning and changing. This alone opens the door for many opportunities between generations.

The hot topic when it comes to the aging population in agriculture is “Transition Planning.” This topic has been coming up more and more, not only on farms, but also in every other agricultural service industry. When it comes to transition planning, it normally doesn’t happen overnight–and it can have some growing pains. It is most likely that the transition includes a Baby Boomer (age 55-71) and a Gen X’er (age 35-55) or Millennial (age 18-35).

We can see the transitions happening right in New Ulm and all of southern Minnesota. Most businesses and farming operations have an older generation and, potentially, a younger generation working side by side. This is not a new dynamic; this has been the case with every generation in every decade. The difference today is that the generations seem so much more separated in the way they go about business and adapting to technology.

The “Grey Hair” Baby Boomer generation has the opportunity to learn from the younger generation, be it in technological efficiencies or an openness to try something new. The younger generations have so much to learn from the older generation, as well. The transfer of knowledge about “The 80’s,” budgeting, negotiations, best practices, and anything in between can create an environment for opportunity and growth.

When it comes to agricultural lending, farming, and many other agricultural related industries, it is hard to teach a new person everything they will need to know in a matter of a few months. It can take years. Early planning and patience is essential for a smooth transition.

An example where transition planning is opening opportunities is right here at Citizens Bank Minnesota. All four of the bank’s branches–New Ulm, Lafayette, La Salle, and Lakeville–have been looking ahead and noticed there is a lot of “Grey Hair” between the clients and the lenders. In each of the branches, there are lenders that have been working alongside the same clients for many, many years.

Citizens saw this as an opportunity and–within the past seven years–has added at least one younger lender to each of the branches to begin the transition and transfer of knowledge. The relationships that exist between the “Grey Hair” lender and most of their clients often run deep and go back many years. Citizens recognized this and started bringing in the younger lenders to build their own relationships with these clients and their second generation years before the retirements were planned. This has been a successful strategy. It gives the farming clients comfort and knowledge that their lending relationship will continue and prosper.

Citizens is very excited about the opportunities in agriculture and is dedicated to the farming community.

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