The story of the aging farmer is one familiar to many in agriculture. The average age of a farmer in America is 58 years. A big part of our nation’s food system rests on these aging shoulders, but young farmers are out there, some waiting to take over the family farm business and others working (or struggling) to gain a foothold in the industry.
A recent report by the National Young Farmers Coalition brings to light valuable information about younger farmers in the U.S. It features the results of a survey of 3,517 past, current and aspiring farmers under 40 to gain a better understanding of their population, the challenges they face and what might help support them and the future of food production.
Challenges reported by young farmers are not unexpected and some are common to all farmers.
Land access was the top challenge indicated — not surprising, considering that average agricultural real estate values have more than doubled since 2003, according to the 2017 USDA Land Values Summary.
Young farmers without much capital find it especially hard to access credit and compete with offers from more established farms. Student loan debt, a lack of skilled farm labor and access to affordable health care are other top challenges highlighted in the report.
Given these challenges, what can be done to ensure the future of farmers and food in America?
Several suggestions are provided in the report, from policy changes to efforts we can all make. As members of the public, we can support programs and organizations that help develop aspiring farmers, like FFA. We can help enhance local demand for the food young farmers produce, by shopping at farmers markets, and buying directly from farmers through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, on-farm sales and you-pick farms. To learn more about these options in Jackson County, contact the UW-Extension office.
The report also includes recommendations on state and federal policy levels to help young farmers — improving federal farm programs to match current young farmer needs, including farmers in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, providing tax incentives for land transfers to beginning farmers; such as the Minnesota example: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/grants/bftc.aspx
To find out more about the National Young Farmers Coalition report and the state of the nation’s young farmers, visit www.youngfarmers.org/newsroom/reports/
For more information about UW-Extension’s “Cultivating Your Farm Business Future” for early to mid-career farmers visit: https://jackson.uwex.edu/
Article adapted from Leigh Presley, agriculture educator with the University of Wisconsin-Extension in Kenosha and Racine counties.