The average age of the American farmer is 57.6 years old and climbing. For every one young farmer who steps into one of the agricultural trades, there are five who are retiring. With them goes generations of knowledge and wisdom in which current and future generations feel has little value in today’s world.
There are a lot of variables that go into the decline of agriculture and the hesitance of the younger generations to go ingot the Ag trades, but none are as pressing as the costs. There was a time in American history when buying a few acres to start up a small farm wouldn’t exactly break the bank. There were parts of the country where all you would have to do was ask for it and it was as good as yours, but that has certainly changed. Now, the average cost of land in the United States is around $2200 per acre, where here in the Northeast, it’s much higher, around $5000 in New York state and averaging $13,000 in Rhode Island, where the cost is the highest in the nation. On top of the cost of land is the cost of equipment, the cost of seed, the cost of insurance, chemicals (if you’re a conventional farmer), and the list goes on and on. It’s not unusual for a start-up farm to cost the young farmer in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and often in the millions. Not really money that most people right out of college or high school has. Certainly not the kind of money a farm hand has to start his or her own farm.
Though we could certainly put money as the main cause for the decline in young farmers, we could also strike up reasoning for the lack of glamour. We live in a society where it’s important to be flashy, as well as it’s important to have a job that offers the most pay for the smallest amount of work. The people who are looking at what they want to do with their lives aren’t seeing that in agriculture. It’s a hard job with long hours, and little return, for the most part. Though there are some, you’re not going to meet very many rich farmers. For most, it’s a lot easier to sit behind a desk and not get dirty than to find ways to deal with drought and growing prices.
As the average age of the American farmer continues to go up, we edge closer and closer to our next great agricultural crisis. We’re already experiencing what’s said to be the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, what’s going to happen when the farmers who have the knowledge and experience to still produce under these conditions decide to retire?
It’s becoming more and more important that we educate our youth on the importance of agriculture and the real benefits of being a farmer. It’s important for the young people today to understand that as a farmer, you’re not the only person who depends on you, the world does. If anything is needed, it’s an agricultural renascence where we are able to bring the excitement and passion of farming back to the youth. We need to create programs, not necessarily through the government, where we can make land and equipment more affordable for the young people who would have considered becoming farmers, but haven’t, as they could never afford the costs in the first place. Maybe cooperative farms? There are options. I’m just trying to get a dialogue open…