By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — For every American farmer under the age of 25, there are five who are 75 or older. The fastest-growing group of farmers is the segment over age 65.
These USDA statistics leave people wondering who the next generation of farmers will be. With so many current farmers close to retirement, and a generation of young people less inclined to follow in their parents’ footsteps, who will be farming the land 10-20 years from now?
“There are certain things that are real hurdles for young people entering production agriculture,” explained Barry Ward, production business management leader with Ohio State University extension. Initial investment and yearly operating expenses can be devastating to new farmers, he said.
“I would suggest having some off-farm employment to have some stability,” added Ward, who recommends taking small steps at first. “Find a rental parcel that is big enough to sustain a small equipment line so that they don’t have too much initial overhead, and then they would be able to do some of their own repairs. Don’t take too big a bite at once.”
Kevin Moore, an associate professor of agriculture economics at the University of Missouri, teaches a class there 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 farm,” he said. “If students are prepared to face the first five years of business, they can be successful in the farming industry. The class helps them prepare for these situations.”
Moore’s class focuses on subjects such as financial planning and developing business plans, and features visits from farmers and professors who cover topics such as estate planning, business organization and tax management.
“If the students are prepared to face the first five years of business, they can be successful in the farming industry,” he said. “The class helps them prepare for these situations.”
Moore believes many young children 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.
A similar class is offered in Ohio, called the “Ohio New and Small Farm College.” It is held in Pickaway and Clermont counties in January. The eight-week class addresses initial farm goals and budgeting, where to find assistance, liability and insurance needs, finances and taxes, natural resources, soils, forages, fruits, vegetables, animal production and marketing techniques.
Online help is available for first-time farmers, as well. The USDA Farm Service Agency provides loans for beginning farmers and grants for first-time farmers. Online resource help can be found at www.beginningfarmers.org
“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,” Moore concluded.