By Baxter Troutman
The folks at the U.S. departments of Labor and Agriculture keep track of a lot of information, and some of it deals with the nation’s farmers. Current information isn’t what leaders in government and agriculture want to see or hear: The average age of farmers and ranchers is 58, and the number is rapidly trending upward.
According to the Agriculture Department’s Census of Agriculture, the average age of U.S. farmers has grown by nearly eight years, from 50.5 to 58.3 years, in the past 30 years.
In addition, according to the National Young Farmers Coalition, more than 25 percent of all U.S. farmers are expected to retire within the next 25 years, which would take an additional 700,000 to replace them.
What’s to be done about all of this? Well, in part, enter the American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers & Ranchers program, with chapters at the state and local levels. Open to men and women between 18 and 35 years old, YF&R exists in one respect to encourage more young people to get into agriculture and to strongly support them in their efforts. In another respect, YF&R is a means to build members’ leadership skills, build a more effective Farm Bureau, preserve individual freedoms, and expand opportunities in agriculture.
The YF&R Leadership Program provides many opportunities for young agriculturists to be involved at the community, local, state, and national levels. Various events, competitions, and award programs recognize the important contributions young farmers and ranchers make to agriculture.
Those activities include:
The Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Group — This program prepares the next generation of farmers and ranchers with the leadership and confidence to represent agriculture at the local, state, and national levels.
Harvest for All — This food donation program is spearheaded by the American Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers. Florida YF&R members have donated more than 24 million pounds of fresh produce and food to assist hungry Americans.
Collegiate Farm Bureau — This bureau brings together ag students on college campuses to engage them in educational activities that will enhance their future and build awareness of the Farm Bureau organization. The Collegiate Farm Bureau chapters operate at the University of Florida and Warner University in Lake Wales.
Florida Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Conference — The 2019 conference will be held July 12-14 in Daytona Beach.
Locally, members of the Polk County Farm Bureau’s YF&R chapter participate in networking and social activities; continuing education and youth mentorship programs; and legislative, membership, and public relations activities. Through the Will Putnam YF&R Scholarship Fund, the Polk YF&R group also supports high school seniors who are pursuing a degree in agriculture. The Polk YF&R and Polk Women’s Committee host The Hunger Shootout each fall to benefit the YF&R Scholarship and Leadership Funds and the Wild Game Food Bank, which provides harvest game food sources for county food banks and people in need.
To learn more about the Florida Farm YF&R program, go online to floridafarmbureau.org/programs/young-farmers-and-ranchers/. To discover and join the Polk YF&R, go to pcfb.org/young-farmers-and-ranchers/.
BIO: Baxter Troutman is founder and chief executive officer of Labor Solutions, a staffing company with offices in Bartow, Winter Haven, Lake Wales, and Arcadia. You also can visit his Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch online at www.DH-LR.com. A cattle rancher and citrus grower who served in the Florida House of Representatives, Troutman understands the challenges and concerns of today’s farmer.