Columnist expresses the importance of local leadership for agricultural future

By JOSEPH CASSADY Professor and Head, Department of Animal Science

Agriculture faces many challenges, and strong effective leadership has never been more critical to the future of agriculture than it is today. In order to meet the nutritional demands of an ever-increasing global population, we must find solutions to the problems that limit our capacity for producing and transporting food. This will require visionary leadership and strong rural communities.

 Leadership can take many forms, and at times we fail to recognize the greatest leaders among us. We can all name leaders in high-profile positions, but much of the leadership that will shape the future of agriculture happens in subtle ways in local communities. It is the leadership of the farmer, rancher, manager of the local farm store, 4-H volunteer, or ag teacher in the local community that many times has the greatest collective impact on the direction of that community.

 These are the individuals who will encourage our youth to pursue their interests in agriculture and allied industries. If the local leaders are positive and hopeful about the future, youth of the community are more likely to be excited about opportunities to pursue a career in agriculture. I believe those youth will be more likely to remain in or return to those rural communities.

 Look around your own community. Are the members of your community excited about the future? Do they welcome new opportunities which may improve the future viability of the community? When new people move into the community, who welcomes them? How many years or generations does someone have to live in your community before the “locals” consider them “one of us?”

 Communities are constantly changing. Some are growing and some are dying. Very few communities are “staying the same.” Who are the true leaders in your community? Are those leaders positive and excited about the future? Do they actively seek out opportunities that will lead the community to a brighter tomorrow?

 Many books have been written on leadership, describing leadership style, effectiveness, and alternative approaches. For those of us in professional leadership roles, it is important to have an understanding of these various mythologies. However, being a leader requires no special training. If you influence individuals in your family or local community, then you have the opportunity to provide leadership.

 In some cases just your willingness or unwillingness to lead may have a major impact on a community. Some people are reluctant to accept leadership roles because they are uncomfortable speaking in public, but these same people may lead more by their actions than their words.

 While agriculture faces many challenges, there are tremendous opportunities for the future. People around the world need food, and South Dakota is well-positioned to be a leader in meeting the nutritional needs of the world. We have bright young people who are excited about the future and are seeking opportunities to pursue careers in agriculture. If those young people are not returning to your community, it may be time for the leaders in the community to ask the difficult questions regarding the direction of the community.

 Who is leading the change in the community? Do they have the best long-term interest of the community at heart? What leadership role do you take in your community? Look for opportunities to be a leader. Talk to your neighbors and the youth in the community about the tremendous opportunities in agriculture. Agriculture needs visionary leadership and strong rural communities. Our future depends on it.