Throughout history, generations have become known for key achievements, traits and ideals. There were the immigrants who settled the original colonies. The so-called “Greatest Generation,” or the GI generation, grew up during the Great Depression and served in World War II.

Today, the millennial generation has surpassed Baby Boomers in number, and in coming years will play a larger role in establishing consumer trends and producing food for a growing global population. Also, as more millennials embark on parenthood, they will be the largest influencer of America’s youth.

So what? What’s this have to do with your cattle operation? Your feedlot? Your family?

Learning about this generation, communicating with them and helping them as they ascend into leadership roles will serve this industry. Not only will it ensure beef remains at the center of the dinner plate but also that those taking the reins in this industry are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to raise cattle and produce beef.

The Beef Checkoff Program is doing its homework by investing in research to find out what makes millennial consumers tick as far as beef is concerned. While the research has found millennials like beef, a 2012 study focused on millennial parents showed they are limiting their children’s consumption of beef due to perceptions that chicken is easier to prepare and more palatable to children, and that other meats are more hearthealthy. The 2012 study also found that millennials don’t find beef convenient to cook for kids.

Some call those challenges; I see them as opportunities. In the industry, we do a good job of talking to each other about the healthy benefits of beef, and many, like me, probably have hundreds of recipes that do not require a culinary degree to tackle. But it’s time to talk outside the family. The checkoff is adjusting its promotion and education programs in 2014 to meet the needs of millennials by engaging with them in a conversation about beef.

Better educating consumers is a crucial piece of the millennial puzzle. But if millennial producers are not ready to step into larger roles throughout the industry, what’s the point?

As the wife of a millennial rancher, I can attest that this is no easy feat. As my husband and I start our own cattle herd, I am quickly learning firsthand of the capital requirements, time obligations, risk-management plans and 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year commitment that success in this industry demands.

Thankfully, we have established ranchers from whom to learn. Not just our fathers, but neighboring ranchers and professional mentors have faced similar challenges as those we’re facing today. While markets fluctuate and industries change, millennial producers have a lot to learn from today’s leaders. My dad entered the industry in the 1980s when commodity prices plummeted, interest rates skyrocketed and farmers by the thousands lost their operations. Today we’re facing sky-high cattle prices and record land values.

Programs like 4-H and the FFA provide valuable skills to youth, but developing professional mentors in the industry and getting involved in local, county, state or national industry organizations will help millennials transition from hired-hand to CEO.

Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” There will likely be many things for which millennials will be remembered, but engaging that generation today will hopefully contribute to the millennial generation being remembered for continuing to raise healthy cattle and produce wholesome beef, and for being educated consumers who choose beef to feed our families.