From the President's desk: Youth in agriculturePosted on Nov 2, 2014
The National FFA Convention concluded in Louisville on November 1 with more than 62,000 young people participating this year. KFB was proud to once again play a part in this wonderful event by providing sponsorships, contest judges and other workers. David S. Beck, our Executive Vice President, was Chairman of the Host Committee for the second consecutive year.
We place a high priority on supporting FFA, as well as 4-H, because we realize they can be the catalyst for developing future farmers, Farm Bureau leaders and others within the agriculture industry. That role has never been more important to American agriculture.
While the next generation of farmers will largely consist of those continuing the legacy of their family farm, there are legitimate concerns about how we bring others into production agriculture to meet the future demand for food.
Statistics affirm our concerns. The latest Census of Agriculture showed the average age of principal farm operators is now 58, which is 7 ½ years higher than it was 30 years ago. In 2012, 62 percent of all U.S. farmers were over 55 years old. And get this: We have more farmers over 75 years old than people working in the “prime” ages of 35 to 44.
The census also revealed that only five percent of farmers are younger than 35. Also, we have fewer of these farmers than we had 10 years ago.
The incredible advances in mechanization have made it easier for farmers to continue working into advanced ages. But farmers not retiring is a drawback to beginning farmers wishing to buy out an operation or initiate a new one. In many cases, younger farmers simply cannot afford to buy in. As we know, the cost of increasingly scarce farmland has soared in recent years as the farm economy improved along with the overall real estate market. Many young people today say it’s nearly impossible to break into the business without a family connection.
Now that all those bright, promising FFA members have wrapped up their conference, I hope the experiences and knowledge afforded to them by the FFA program will spark an interest in farming. As we move forward, I suspect that the continuing decline in the number of American farmers will give rise to future farm bills and other government initiatives aimed at filling the void. The current farm bill has $100 million allocated for beginning farmer programs. We’ll have to see what kind of effect that will have. Beyond the obvious measures such as low-interest loans and tax incentives is another good idea -- a program rewarding veteran farmers for providing land, equipment and training to young farmers.
It will be interesting to see how we deal with this transition in the years ahead.