The latest survey of participants in the American Farm Bureau Federation's Young Farmers & Ranchers program shows an even split when it comes to concerns about top challenges they face today. A total of 21 percent of young farmers surveyed ranked burdensome government regulations and "red tape" as a top concern; an additional 21 percent cited securing adequate land to grow crops and raise livestock as their top challenge today.

"Most young farmers and ranchers would like to stay on the farm or ranch their entire lives," said Glen Cope, AFBF's national YF&R committee chair and a beef cattle producer from Missouri. "One of the biggest challenges many of us have faced is getting enough capital to start farming. And then, once we are established, regulatory costs can be the wildcard that determines whether we can be successful enough to stay on the land," he said.

Other issues ranked as top concerns included economic challenges, particularly profitability, 11 percent; availability of farm labor and related regulations, 8 percent; and willingness of parents to turn over the reins of the farm or ranch, 7 percent.

When asked to name the top three steps the federal government should take to help young farmers and ranchers, cutting government spending was the number 1 response, with 20 percent listing this as most important. Sixteen percent of those surveyed said the government should provide financial help to beginning farmers, while 12 percent indicated reforming environmental regulations should be first on the list.

"Cutting government spending will help reduce the nation's mammoth government debt," said Cope. "However, providing assistance to help beginning farmers get started in food production would be money well spent. And reforming burdensome environmental regulations will be good for all of agriculture and America."

The 20th annual YF&R survey revealed that 94 percent of those surveyed are more optimistic about farming and ranching than they were five years ago. Last year, 87 percent of those surveyed said they were more optimistic about farming than they were five years ago.

The 2012 survey also shows 94 percent of the nation's young farmers and ranchers say they are better off than they were five years ago. Last year, 90 percent reported being better off.

More than 96 percent considered themselves lifetime farmers, while 98 percent would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. The informal survey reveals that 92 percent believe their children will be able to follow in their footsteps.

The survey shows that America's young farmers and ranchers are committed environmental stewards, with 61 percent using conservation tillage to protect soil and reduce erosion on their farms.

In addition, computers and the Internet are vital tools for the nation's young farmers and ranchers, with 93 percent surveyed reporting using a computer in their farming operation. Nearly all of those surveyed, 99 percent, have access to the Internet. High-speed Internet is used by 79 percent of those surveyed, with 20 percent relying on a satellite connection and just over 1 percent turning to dialup.

The popular social media site, Facebook, is used by 79 percent of those surveyed who use the Internet. The most popular use of the Internet in the survey is to gather news and agricultural information, with 82 percent turning to it for that use.

Finally, the survey points out that 71 percent of YF&R members consider communicating with consumers a formal part of their jobs.

"Young farmers and ranchers are becoming more comfortable when it comes to reaching out to consumers to participate in conversations they are having about food," Cope said. "It's important that we as farmers continue to explore and use all available tools to connect with consumers, whether that means social media platforms, personal outreach through farm tours, agri-tourism, farmers' markets, or some combination," he said.

AFBF President Bob Stallman said the annual YF&R survey points out that the future of U.S. agriculture is in good hands.

"Our young farmers and ranchers have the know-how and tenacity to ensure that the best days are ahead for our country and agriculture," Stallman said. "They are the future of American agriculture."