What is in this article?:
- Reversing the American farm exodus
- Coming back to tradition
- In 1945 the average age of the United States farmer was 39 years old. By 1974 that average had risen to 45 years. In 2007, our average farmer was 58, according to USDA figures. The trend continues as young people leave the farm to attend college and then pursue other careers.
In 1945 the average age of the United States farmer was 39 years old. By 1974 that average had risen to 45 years. In 2007, our average farmer was 58, according to USDA figures. The trend continues as young people leave the farm to attend college and then pursue other careers—often looking for jobs with less risk, less stress and more financial reward.
It’s not always the child that encourages the break. Farmers often push their children to consider other options before committing to life on the farm and the constant struggles with weather, capricious markets and voracious pests. Many insist that their sons and daughters get a degree before coming back to the home place.
Whitney Bell and her brother Austin White are exceptions to the youthful exodus from Rural America and are anxious to carry on a family tradition that has persisted through several generations near Frederick, Okla.
Whitney earned a degree in animal science from Oklahoma State University in 2010 and is already back on the farm, improving a herd of Angus cattle and building a commercial cattle operation. She also works for Sesaco as a field representative, encouraging farmers to plant sesame as a rotation option in traditional cotton and wheat country.
Austin has just started his junior year at OSU, majoring in agriculture business and taking as many economics and marketing courses as he can, “for my own benefit.” He spent his summer break working on his parents’—Joe D. and Gayle White’s—peanut, cotton and grain farm.
Austin and Whitney welcome the opportunities and the challenges. Neither is afraid of hard work or long hours.
Whitney could wrangle cattle in the morning, set up a planter in the afternoon and be the prettiest girl at the dance that evening—until she gets bored and decides to shoot wild hogs in the peanut field with her husband Brandon, a deputy sheriff. She takes care of stray kittens and orphaned wild critters, a raccoon being the latest rescue.
Austin worked all summer on the farm, loading out peanut seed in early summer, plowing, planting cotton and then monitoring irrigation systems. He was anxious to get back to college but also misses the early mornings—6:30 every day—and checking on crops and “keeping the water going.”
Both say tradition has much to do with their desire to return to their roots.
“I didn’t always want to come back and farm,” Austin says. “When I was younger, I thought I would do something else, something in agriculture, but not back on the farm.”
That changed when he went away to college. “I wanted to get back to the production side of agriculture,” he says. “It’s a pretty sight watching crops come up out of the ground. And I want to continue to build on what dad started.”