Many in the older generation complain that younger generations are less fit to survive than them.  It’s been this way for millennia. 

Farm and ranch people are similar to the general population in this respect.  Nearly all criticisms about young people being less capable than their elders are incorrect, with a few exceptions. 

Most children are better equipped to survive as they mature into adulthood than their parents and grandparents, according to studies that have examined intelligence, health and well-being, understanding of science and use of technology.  Their inherited DNA may provide some advantages that neither parent possessed.

Artificial insemination and embryo transplant procedures taught me a lot about inheritance when I raised registered Simmental cattle.  Whereas about one of every two calves sired by a bull in my herd resulted in a superior calf, about one of three fertilizations by artificial insemination resulted in a top notch calf. 

Only about one of five calves produced by embryo transplant resulted in a superior calf.  Another one or two calves out of the five might be worthy of retaining in the herd, but I chose to cull the rest for meat because they exhibited characteristics that did not advance my herd or the breed overall. 

Sometimes the sperm that can produce the most superior offspring do not reach the egg first, because there many thousands of sperm that swim up the fallopian tube toward the egg.  Too often breeders of expensive livestock retain all the offspring of their best animals, whether by natural or artificial insemination, because they have invested a lot of money in their production program.  These are stock producers to shun.

Nature does the same thing I did through selection: less capable animals in the wild do not survive as readily to reproduce.  To illustrate, consider how only the alpha male and female in a pack of wolves usually produce pups. 

Advances in capacity and survivability usually occur slowly across successive generations. This is called regression toward the mean, which is a tendency to be closer to average than exceptional.

Over multiple generations the species in general gradually advances in its capacity to survive, unless unusual factors snuff it out, like new diseases or the asteroid that hit the Yucatan Peninsula some 65 million years ago.  Supposedly the asteroid’s stupendous impact generated so much atmospheric dust the earth’s temperature fell to a level that caused the demise of dinosaurs, but not all scientists agree this is the cause of dinosaurs’ disappearance.

That’s how the laws of chance and genetics work: through regression toward an average, but advances occur slowly as environmental conditions allow.  Mutations that radically improve an individual and the species are rare, but GMOs are changing things. 

The overall ability of younger human generations is different than previous generations.  With their I-phones, e-books and computers, younger people are better equipped than the older generations–or me anyhow—to learn than I was through cursive writing in my childhood years and time-consuming searches at the library in my college years.  

Children today might not be well versed in practical skills, such as sewing and gardening, but they readily look up information on the internet.  My nearly three-year old granddaughter is not intimidated with a cell phone or computer console and presses buttons confidently without worry she might err. 

Still, I hope I can teach her and my other grandchildren life-sustaining skills learned through farming, fishing, hunting, carpentry and mechanics.  I worry what might happen if we have a massive, long-term, electric power outage that cripples communications, transportation, commerce and other electricity-dependent activities.  

Older persons want to teach younger persons the knowledge they have accumulated.  In spite of what sometimes seems like criticism to younger people, their elders want to contribute to the capacity of younger generations to survive. 

Young people should ask older people and see what useful responses they elicit.  Older farmers almost always are eager to share lessons learned from experience.  

Older farmers might find fault with younger farmers who want to quit working at the end of the day to attend their children’s school events or to recreate themselves, while the younger folks feel these activities are good investments for maintaining family happiness and their own health.  There has to be “give and take” on both sides to keep everything in balance.

Successful older farmers, like elders everywhere, usually have learned that perseverance is important to enduring gainfully, whereas younger farmers are more likely to “think outside the box.”  Younger farmers often take more risks, and sometimes learn “the hard way.”

Perceptions change as people age.  In the final assessment, experience usually contributes most to achieving success. 

Newer farmers, whether they grew up on agricultural operations or left other careers to become producers of food, fiber and shelter, learn quickly that experience in farming is key to succeeding in this occupation. 

The capacity to learn is available to all of us; we just need to be open to it.

Michael Rosmann is a Harlan, Iowa clinical psychologist (and fly-fisherman) who lives on the farm he shares with his wife.  Contact him at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.