Recruiting the Next Generation of Farmers

Courtesy US News

In his podcast from June 25, 2019, Steve Savage takes a close look at the aging farm population and asks a very important and serious question... Who will continue operating our farms tomorrow, once today's generation is gone? Who will continue to feed a good portion of the world?

The emphasis is clear that this question is a very serious one that needs to be asked within the U.S. population. Along with the impact of climate change, the economical constraints on entry-level farmers proves to be too much to handle. Market pricing, cooperatives, and the agricultural industry as a whole will need to account for what is needed to recruit and retain new, younger farmers in order to not only maintain U.S. farm production, but also to ensure the security of our food supply in the future.

The following is a prelude to Mr. Savage's podcast published by the Genetic Literacy Project.

Is farming for the aging? While Paul McCartney ponders, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?” plant pathologist Steve Savage wonders who will farm now that 62% of U.S. farmers are at retirement age.

Today, particularly in affluent societies like ours, only a small subset of the population is required to do the actual farming needed to feed the rest of us. We recently got to see a profile of that small part of our society because in April of this year, the USDA published the 2017 Census of Agriculture—a detailed survey that is completed every five years. It includes key data that speaks to the question of who it is that will be feeding us.

As of 2017, there were 3.4 million total agricultural “producers” in the U.S. (that means people who are directly involved in making decisions on farms). As part of a theme that is consistent with earlier surveys, the age distribution of those producers is decidedly weighted towards older people. The average age of the producers in 2017 was 57.5 years, and that fits the somewhat concerning, long-term trend that our farmers are getting older.

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