Where are the young farmers? (commentary)Where are the young farmers? (commentary)
Where is the next generation of farmers and ranchers and how can we keep them on the farm?
March 13, 2016
According to the agricultural census “the fastest growing group of farm operators is those 65 years and over”. This fact is causing much hand wringing amongst those of us concerned about the future of our food, fuel and fiber. Where is the next generation of farmers and ranchers and how can we keep them on the farm?
While various experts discuss and explain why only six percent of our principal operators are currently under 35 years old, I am experiencing it firsthand. I made the choice, after college, to return to my family's farm and be the sixth generation to live off this land while my peers pursued off the farm jobs.
Now that I have been working for the ranch for over a decade, I have in-depth knowledge why we do not have more young people returning to their family farms.
The biggest challenges is finances. Earning enough money from the farm to support yourself, pay off student loans and invest in the growth of your operation is almost impossible. Often people wanted to pay me in “experience” and “memories”, unfortunately those do not pay off debts.
It can be incredibly exhausting trying to diversify yourself to make an income. I had several part-time, off the farm jobs in order to make ends meet and grow my operation. Having that much responsibility, while necessary, was taxing on both my mental and physical health.
Watching your peers buy shiny new vehicles, homes, take vacations and invest in their retirement, while you are facing the same financial struggles as you were in college can be a despicable feeling. Coupled with the fact farmers and ranchers are often made to be a villain or it is insinuated that we are stupid by mass media and activists, the incentives can seem like few and far between.
Working in production agriculture is not as glamorous or romantic as the rest of the country thinks. Friends and family that do not work in production agriculture immediately claim to be jealous of my lifestyle, although they have no hands on experience. Everything they know has been gleaned from third parties. My work is often dirty, smelly, cold or hot and dangerous.
All of this being said, I would not trade my current situation for the world. Perhaps it would have been an easier path, to have a short career off the farm in order to ease my financial burdens, but I would not have the same sense of accomplishment I currently have. Because of all my hard work, dedication and sacrifice I am married to this lifestyle and this ranch.
The key to attracting more young people back to production agriculture is going to be being able to instill this feeling of pride and accomplishment in them. As farm operators, we need to articulate the sense of pride and control we have by being our own bosses and leaving legacies for generations of our family. However, we need to do everything in our power to provide them with a living wage and place to farm. If we do not have these basic necessities, we simply will not come back to agricultural life.
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