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Young farmers, ranchers optimistic for their future
By JANE HOUIN
Ohio Correspondent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For only the second time in 14 years, more than 95 percent of surveyed young farmers and ranchers said they hope their children follow in their footsteps.

The survey was completed by members of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) young farmers and ranchers attending the group’s annual conference in Des Moines, Iowa, earlier this month.

“The survey results show that young producers in general are optimistic about the future of agriculture, otherwise they wouldn’t see a place for their children in farming and ranching,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

More than 95 percent out of 330 young farmers and ranchers responding to the survey would like to see their children earn a living on the farm. The only time this number was higher was in 1996.

Last year, only 89 percent wanted to see their children follow in their footsteps.

“Our generation in agriculture is learning to do more with less,” said National Young Farmers and Ranchers President Jerry Barr. “We have taken on the challenge of farming and are creating niche markets for our own products instead of waiting on the market price. This type of controlled destiny allows family operations the options of allowing their children to follow in their footsteps.

“Farming is, and always will be, a family affair. If we make agriculture a viable option for our children, then farmers would take pride in seeing their children keep up the traditions of farming.”

This year, 91 percent of respondents said they are better off today than last year, compared to 90 percent in 2005. And 94 percent of respondents expect to be farmers or ranchers their entire life, up 3 percent from last year.

“We are innovators with enthusiasm,” Barr said. “We feel strongly that there is a future in agriculture, and we want to be a part of it. We start small and build on what we have.”

Young farmers and ranchers are facing the reality that they will probably have to farm with fewer government subsidies, and most say that is acceptable. More respondents, 79 percent, think farm income should come totally from the markets (domestic and international), compared to only 67 percent in 2005. But it is more in line with 2004 survey results of 82 percent who preferred not relying on the government for their income.

Young farmers’ major issues

“Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&K) are entrepreneurs and are adapting with new strategies to earn a living,” said Stallman.

“Given a change, these young people have proved themselves to be top-notch stewards of the nation’s most important asset - its land.”

The challenges facing these young farmers are consistent with where they see need for government involvement. Like 2005, availability of land and facilities was a top challenge identified by 21 percent of respondents. The Farm Bureau YF&R group has requested that Congress provide tax breaks to assist young farmers and ranchers in getting a foothold in farming.

Concern about profitability was listed second most often as a top challenge by the young farmers and ranchers (18 percent), while urbanization and loss of farmland was third (12 percent).

The two other government actions that should be priorities, according to the group, have been grabbing the attention of young and old farmers alike. They want an energy policy that includes a bigger role for renewable fuels (16 percent).

They also want the government to strengthen private property rights (14 percent), which reflects a common rural America sentiment for state legislators to outlaw use of eminent domain for economic development projects.

Of this year’s group, 29 percent started farming on their own as a career decision while 15 percent married into farming, 12 percent inherited a portion of their farming operation and 44 percent started as partners in a family operation. Last year, 53 percent (9 percent more of the respondents) started as partners and only 23 percent started on their own.

Changes in farming practices

Results reflecting farming practices being used during 2006 are quite similar in most aspects to 2005 farming practices as reported by the producers. The biggest difference in crop production practices is that 58 percent of this year’s respondents will plant biotech crop varieties compared with only 45 percent in 2005.

Use of futures and options in marketing their crops and livestock was much higher with this year’s group than last year’s respondents - 33 percent compared to 22 percent. This is not near an all-time high; the 2000 survey showed half of the respondents were using futures and options.

Conservation tillage, soil/tissue analysis and crop rotation for 10 years running have topped the survey as one, two and three as the most commonly used conservation and environmental stewardship practices. This year the numbers were conservation tillage (59 percent), soil/tissue analysis (46 percent) and crop rotation (41 percent). Last year the numbers were: conservation tillage (54 percent), crop rotation (49 percent) and soil/tissue analysis (46 percent). Most respondents each year note that they use more than one conservation practice.

Off-farm income

Fewer husbands but more wives among the 2006 respondents are working off the farm compared to last year and in 2004.

The totals for this year show 8 percent of the husbands, 43 percent of the wives and both of them, 25 percent, are working off the farm to earn additional income.

This compares with 2005 numbers of 11 percent, 35 percent and 30 percent respectively.

In 2004, it was 13 percent, 37 percent and 20 percent.

As always, a primary reason for having at least one spouse work off the farm is to obtain health insurance benefits. This year it was 47 percent and last year it was 43 percent that said health insurance was a factor in off-farm employment.

Fewer farm couples from this year’s group are supplementing their income with on-farm enterprises such as custom work or seed sales - 60 percent this year compared to 67 percent last year.

Technology use not changing

Responses for the last three years indicate that technology availability and use in rural America is not changing drastically, but cellular telephone use has reached an all-time high at 92 percent. Last year cell phone use was only at 83 percent, which was a drop-off from 90 percent in 2004.

Young farmers and ranchers using computers from 2004-06 has fluctuated little - 92 percent, 94 percent and 92 percent, respectively, and Internet access as a farming tool has changed slightly from 88 percent to 91 percent to 89 percent during the last three years.

There were no significant changes in the way that these farmers are using their computer Internet access. The Internet continues to be a source of general agricultural news (73 percent in both 2006 and 2005) and entertainment (64 percent and 63 percent during the last two years).

3/29/2006