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Who is your farmer? Farmers are those who supply necessary resources for all of us around the world. However, we are seeing a steady increase in the age of farmers and a decrease in the amount of younger generations coming back to the farm, causing alarm to who will be our farmers in years to come. When we sit down for a meal, we often do not think about the hands that have made it possible. Whether it was during planting, harvesting, processing, or transportation. We just simply acknowledge that we have it there in front of us, ready to enjoy. You see, that is a problem that we are currently facing in our world. There seems to be a strong disconnect between the farm and table. We are moving away from the farm, both literally and figuratively.

Where’s the next generation of farmers?

Between 2007 and 2012, there was nearly a 20 percent drop in the number of new farmers. Rural areas contain fewer academic and economic opportunities, acting as a deterrent for individuals to stay or come back to the farm. Prices are one of the main concerns to younger generations of farmers. If a farm is not inherited, there are high start-up costs, making it difficult for younger generations to buy in. These costs include land, equipment, structures, livestock, and crop materials. Another issue when looking to younger generations of agriculturalists, older farmers are not retiring, therefore, resources like land are scarce for new farmers.

Why are farmers not retiring?

When we look at the average age of a farmer, they are 57.5-years-old, up 1.2 years from 2012 according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture. This average age is higher due to several reasons. Farmers are not able to retire because some farmers do not have someone to take over, so they must continue their work. For many, farming is all that they have ever known. They have an emotional tie to their land which has typically been passed down through generations. Some farmers are concerned for the future of their farm, not knowing if their legacy will be continued. One of the largest reasons that farmers are staying around is because they have little to no savings for retirement. Most do not have a retirement plan and are just living paycheck to paycheck. If they were to stop farming, they would lose the income that they do have. To add another level to this, there are often farmers that hold down other jobs and farming is just “part-time” for them. Although we call it part-time, it requires a lot of attention. These farms are their livelihood.

Agricultural Disconnect

Did you know that roughly 7 percent of American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows? This equates to around 16.4 million people according to a survey done by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy (Dewey, 2017). When looking at that number, it just shows that there is a gap between agriculture and consumers, one that needs to be narrowed. It is easy just to go to the grocery store or a restaurant and not acknowledge where it came from. USDA completed a study in the late 1990s that found that nearly one in five adults did not know that hamburgers are made from beef. Studies have also shown that children have difficulty connecting that pickles come from cucumbers and french-fries are potatoes. It is with hopes through educational opportunities that the general public becomes more connected to their food. Looking towards the future, we will need to bridge the gap between producers and consumers through communication, education and other opportunities for younger generations.

So you may be thinking that the greying of our farmers is not a huge deal, but if we do not get younger generations interested in agriculture, we could lose the ground that has taken the agriculture industry all of these years to gain. Not to mention that if we want to be able to continue to eat, we will have to find individuals that want to be a part of the industry.

References:

Dewey, C. (2017). The surprising number of American adults who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/06/15/seven-percent-of-americans-think-chocolate-milk-comes-from-brown-cows-and-thats-not-even-the-scary-part/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.3fa5f932c32a

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2019). Farm Producers. 2017 Census of Agriculture Highlights. https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/Highlights/2019/2017Census_Farm_Producers.pdf

 

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