Generation Ag

The face of the American farmer is changing. Though the industry is still dominated by the older-than-50 set, the U.S. is experiencing a small but growing trend of young ag-minded professionals choosing country living over city life.

According to the USDA, the average age of the American farmer is 57 and more than 25 percent of farmers are 65 or older. However, the most recent USDA agriculture census also showed that the number of American farms increased 4 percent between 2002 and 2007 and that these new farmers are younger — 48 years old on average.

“I’m seeing an enthusiastic group of young people all across the country who want to get into farming,” said Fred Kirschenmann, a longtime farmer and fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames, in USA Today.

A recent CNBC report about young farming entrepreneurs credits an increasing interest in organic farming, farmer’s markets and restaurants purchasing directly from local farmers for making farming a more appealing and financially viable opportunity for a new generation.

“Young people are seeing this as a very rewarding lifestyle and career,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, a New York-based vegetable farmer and a board member for the National Young Farmers Coalition. “For the first time in a long time, young people are interested, after decades of farming not being a very desirable career.”

But launching a farming venture is a risky proposition these days thanks to high start-up costs and the lack of affordable, available land. The answer for many newbie farmers is to start small. The USDA reports that most young farmers are opting for smaller, more manageable farms of about 200 acres or less compared to the average 418-acre American farm.

To encourage more young people to pick up pitchforks, in 2011 the USDA launched a loan program to help rookie farmers get started. The Beginning Farmers and Rancher Development Program provides approximately $18 million a year to support training, education, outreach and technical assistance.

Interested in farming as a career? Here are a few “Farming 101” tips from the Ohio Farm Bureau:
  • Use available resources — The Ohio State University Extension offers a wealth of information about land management, raising livestock and growing and preserving your own food, including educational workshops.
  • Be prepared for the expense — Livestock require pens, fences, feed and other items that can quickly add up.
  • Try before you buy — Talk with farmers or even offer to work on a farm to understand the amount of work involved.
  • Be practical — Planting something is the easy part, it’s the weeding, fertilizing, watering and pruning throughout the year that can become overwhelming.

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