Here’s a fact that tends to bring cheers: due in large part to better science, technology, and horticultural practices, U.S. farming productivity and efficiency rates today are the best they’ve ever been. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the level of farm output in 2015 was 2.7 times greater than its 1948 level. That’s impressive, especially considering that U.S. farming acreage today is significantly smaller than it was immediately after World War II.
Now, here are a couple of facts that tend to bring concern: The number of U.S. farmers is quickly sliding downward while the average age of farmers is steadily climbing. According to “Farmers for America,” a documentary by Graham Merriweather, the population of farmers in America has dropped nearly 50 percent from 1980, when there were about 6 million farmers. Two-thirds of U.S. farmland is expected to transition hands in the next 20 years, the documentary states, and that presents a problem when our farmers average 60 years of age and only 6 percent of farmers fall under the age of 35.
The state of our farms and farmers brings to mind a quick question with not-so-quick answers: “What do we do — as a nation, a state, and a people — to attract more young Americans to the farm?” In tackling the challenge, here are some of the better ideas being considered across the land.
From AGree (foodandagpolicy.org/):
- Broaden and strengthen the emphasis on science and agricultural science in the classroom.
- Boost funding for programs dedicated to agricultural technology and education.
- Invest in food and agriculture literacy for all students in the K-12 education system.
- Support school-to-work programs in agriculture-related fields.
From Renato Zardo, a NextGen grower with NatureFresh Farms in Ohio and Ontario (as told to growingproduce.com):
- Grab the attention of today’s tech-rich generation with the appeal of ag-related technology.
- At the ag corporate level, offer incentives like career planning and employee stock ownership programs — benefits that other industries employ successfully to attract the best young talent.
From other resources:
- Increase support for youth ag programs, such as FFA and 4-H.
- Offer training programs for first-time farmers, as some states have begun to do.
- Trim government regulations and ease credit restrictions to reduce farming start-up costs. (Not everyone can inherit a farm.)
- Explore additional incentives for young farmers and ag entrepreneurs.
- Expose more college-age people to the world of agriculture with more secondary ag education programs, such as the new Agricultural Studies program at nearby Warner University.
- Re-examine and revise government policies to provide more favorable tax, insurance, trade, and other treatment for family farmers of any age.
BIO: Baxter Troutman is founder and chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a staffing agency with five locations in Polk, Hillsborough, and DeSoto counties. You can visit his Agritourism/Ranching operation at www.DH-LR.com. A cattle rancher, citrus grower, and former member of the Florida House of Representatives, Troutman understands the challenges, concerns, and importance of today’s farmer. Together we can Keep Florida Growing!