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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What If We Awaken Some Day And There Are No Farmers To Be Found?


What if the global consumer arose one morning for breakfast and there was neither food in the fridge nor enough US farmers to supply the demand for food? Oooooops. While technology is indeed making farmers more productive, there will still need to be farm operators and managers to produce food products for shipment to the processing and distribution industries. But that number of individuals is rapidly diminishing and there are some concerns being expressed.

The latest statistics about the next generation of farmers comes from the Annual Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll that is celebrating its 28th anniversary. The 2008 version found 42% of farmers planned to retire by 2013 and only 56 of those had a successor to operate their land. The 2009 version asked about succession issues and whether there were any adult children on the farm that might take over. Iowa State University rural sociologists conducting the poll questioned the 735 farmers over 55 years of age and approaching retirement and found that only 48% of them had a potential successor in the family.

Those who planned to carry on the family farm were asked why they wanted to do that:
• 80% said it was for the love of farming.
• 72% said farming offered a quality of life and they grew up on the farm.
• 68% wanted to be their own boss
• 56% wanted to stay close to home
• 55% appreciated the family’s ability to help them get started.
The Iowa State sociologists say, “That parents of children who farm believe that cultural and lifestyle factors weighed more heavily in their children’s decisions to farm than did economic criteria.” But for those children who chose a non-farming career, the dominant reason was that it provided better income, and 75% of them indicated that was their primary reason.

But for those who elect to remain on the farm, had to evaluate many other potential challenges, and put them aside as not important. What were those non-important issues for young farmers?
• 64% rated having a spouse who wanted to farm as unimportant or not at all important in their decision to choose farming.
• The absence of options aside from farming and family expectations to farm were regarded as unimportant by over 50% of participants.
• Levels of stress ranked low on the importance scale to 48%
• Income relative to other occupations ranked low on the importance scale, with 44%.

So a decision has been made to start farming, but that move does not happen overnight, and the farm may be unable to support two family incomes. So the younger farmer joins up with a beginning farmer program, which the sociologists found to be farmer friendly, “Over 80% of farmers rated the expansion of loan programs for beginning farmers and programs that link beginning farmers with retiring farmers as either needed or critically needed.” Also high on the endorsement list were tax credit programs for beginning farmers, linkage with absentee landowners, and succession planning assistance.

But there were a number of other programs, not related to beginning farmers, which received high marks from them. Those included value-added initiatives, development of markets for alternative crops, and training in the production and marketing of non-traditional crops.

Beginning farmers, whether young or old, are giving the same reasons for their decisions to operate a farm as they always have, which are a desire for independence and a love of the land and of the occupation. While income was the major decision for those who chose not to farm, it was a non-issue for those who did chose to farm. While there are not many changes in such surveys from year to year, there are concerns that fewer individuals are electing to begin farming, and a recent poll of Iowa farm families found that less than half of farmers of retirement age had a family member ready to take over the operation.

Posted by Stu Ellis on 03/16 at 01:32 AM | Permalink

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