It’s not exactly a secret that the American farm population is a dwindling one. Our productivity given our lack of sheer numbers is absolutely astounding and continued innovation in production techniques is enough to put any other industry to shame.
Now it’s time for me to step in and play devil’s advocate. Perhaps we aren’t putting enough focus into recruiting more farmers. There are thousands of farms with no successor and the average American farmer is fifty-five years old. That means that there are less farmers coming into the fold than those exiting the business and when the effects of said phenomena are spread across the entire country it creates quite the conundrum.
It also isn’t exactly a secret that farming is a hard life and that fact is what causes thousands of farm kids to leave their roots for an easier row to hoe once they leave home for the first time. Farming is also a way of life that has been denigrated by society for generations. To borrow a line from the FFA creed, the focus seems to be placed too much on the discomforts of agricultural life and not the joys.
For example, I’m going to flash back to eighth grade. That year was when I decided I wanted to be a dairy farmer. I told a teacher about all my plans and he said, “I guess I’d rather have a job where I use my brain instead of my back.” Another teacher said, “Britt, think about it. Would you rather have a job with manicures or calluses?” Now that I look back on it, it’s no wonder more kids don’t want to become farmers.
Even in agriculture, conversations amongst ourselves seem to focus on the bad. We vent a lot to each other, and rightfully so, because our non-ag friends probably won’t understand what it means to us when milk sinks below $15 or why the price of number 2 yellow corn is a big deal. Farming is difficult, and some days are harder than others. I get that. But what we need to talk about more are the good days, and by doing so we can paint farming in a more positive light.
Look at it this way: how many other jobs can you think of that let you be the boss? What other job introduces you to the complete circle of life, or connects you with nature, or pushes you to grow as a person in every facet of your being? There are lows in farming, but keep in mind that with every low comes a high. Farming is not for everyone, but that can be said about every occupation. It is a difficult life, but it is not without its rewards.
There’s an exodus happening from our farms and it seems to have no end in sight. Barns are sitting empty, and farmhouses are weathering away. We have the power to stop that exodus. We need to cultivate in our youth a love for the land and the lifestyle. We need to support them if they do decide that they want to come back to the farm, or start a farm of their very own. But, most of all, we need to shift our attitudes and sell farming on its advantages instead of descending on its disadvantages, starting with our words.
Rod Ofte says
Excellent article… I think one way FB could help support bringing in more new/young farmers is to target and welcome those new to agriculture. This is not traditionally our strong suit. We are comfortable with people that are similar to us. FB focuses on serving large/established farmers. Even the young/beginning farmers of FB are pretty well established. Starting a new initiative like “New Farmers” program could help. We get calls from people every week asking how to start a grazing operation. Often these folks will comment that they didn’t know where to go for help. Grazing is an excellent starter program for Ag as it can be accomplished with low investment and done part time. Successful producers who want to grow into a full time role can do that. We must try and welcome anyone who would consider joining the agriculture community. The hard work and low wages alone, will scare enough people away.
One thing I also think is a huge factor is the business part of farming. I grew up on a tiny hobby farm and our only purpose was to feed our bellies and our souls while teaching us kids about food, nature, and hard work. I feel like I was a bit cheated out of even having the thought to go into agriculture, because I had no idea where to start, what it meant to be a farmer, and how the business parts were run. Our schooling system, although it has ag classes, did not teach me anything about farming that I did not ask to know myself. There is a lot more room to be educating our youth on the different aspects and departments of farming than we are currently taking advantage of. I would have maybe stayed in the lifestyle I loved and looked forward to, had I learned more about it as a kid. My plan is now to get married, settle down, and start a happy little hobby farm again. Because that is what I know.
Kay Olson-Martz says
Another great article. I really enjoy reading all of your writings.