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U.S. agriculture needs a transfusion of youth

  • With so many farmers nearing retirement, the question looms, who will farm this land in 2025, a scant 13 years from now? The challenge of replacing retiring farmers is daunting.

A recent USDA survey forewarns of an impending crisis in agriculture. It’s not about too many rules and regulations restricting farmer profitability, inadequate farm policy or rising input costs, although these factors could very well play into the crisis.

It’s not about land, or water or conservation. There are plenty of rules in place to preserve these resources.

Little has been done however, to encourage the next generation of farmers to step in and provide society’s food, feed, fuel and fiber. With so many U.S. farmers so close to retirement, and a generation of young people less inclined to follow in their parent’s footsteps, one wonders, who will be farming this land in 2025, a scant 13 years from now?

What a professor at the University of Missouri is doing to address this potential shortage of knowledge and skill won’t by itself provide the necessary transfusion of youth. But it’s a good start.

Kevin Moore, an associate professor of agricultural economics, teaches a class at UM called “Returning to the Farm.” It prepares students to overcome the financial and personality hurdles of becoming a farmer.

“The purpose of the class is to teach students the skills that they will need to overcome the financial and societal pressures they face when going back to the family farm or starting their own farms,” Moore said.

The class focuses on subjects such as financial planning, developing business plans and features visits from farmers and professors who cover topics such as estate planning, business organization and tax management.

“If students are prepared to face the first five years of business, they can be successful in the farming industry,” Moore said. “The class helps them prepare for these situations.”

Moore believes many young children of today are more attracted to what they see as more lucrative, non-farming careers and an urban lifestyle. Public perception of agriculture has fallen in recent years, adding to the pressure to seek employment elsewhere.

Moore says parents often wait too long to discuss their children’s goals. “All too often, assumptions are made about the next generation coming back to the farm,” Moore said. “This leaves a lot of planning and decisions for later, during crunch time when kids have already made decisions about the direction of their lives.  If younger adults are going to continue to choose not to go into the farming industry, then we may run into a problem, within the next decade or two, due to the lack of farmers in the United States.”

Moore points out that only 5 percent of principal farm operators nationwide are under the age of 35. With one-third of U.S. farmers now at 65 or older, time is running short.

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 5, 2012

I wanted to farm for a living,but everything and everybody was not in favor of me farming for a living,including other more established farmers who could pay more land rent. Also people who grew houses for aliving could pay 10 times as much for land that was for sale. Also equipment manufacurers tend to build equipment for large operations,If you want young people to farm,then smaller operation must get more respect.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Dec 5, 2012

I have heard this situation for a number of years now. I think there is a misconception that the older generation will just retire at 65. Sure a percentage may. But that is not across the board in the farming industry. Many continue on longer.
The other situation that many don't discuss openly enough is that huge amount of capital and expense required to get started in farming. As a young farmer myself, I know first hand the struggles and difficulty I had in even just getting a loan from a bank for my first year. Most banks are hesitant to give you the large loan needed. Expenses are very high and your assets or collateral is low or non existent to begin.
Besides that other than inheritance or possibly taking over for a neighbor, land is very difficult or impossible to come by. Obviously you cant afford to buy it, and rents have already been pushed to the upper end of affordability. There is very limited room for growth, or stepping in with the ever so narrow profit margins. A 100-300 ac farm in field crops used to produce a living back in the 60's and then could grow from there. Now a person needs 500-1000ac to do the same to justify equipment and fulltime status. You don't just go find that many acres to farm. I have been looking for the last 10 year

Ian (not verified)
on Feb 19, 2013

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on May 12, 2013

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