WHEN ALL THE FARMERS RETIRE, WHO IS LEFT?

I’m quite certain that if you closed your eyes and imagined a farmer in your head, these are some of the words that would describe him.

  • farmermale
  • hard-working
  • dedicated
  • tired
  • brave
  • sweaty
  • early riser
  • trustworthy
  • old

I know, because I just did this exact activity with my son’s third grade classroom.  Those are some great adjectives, right?

(And for today, we’re going to skip over the “male” descriptor because women ARE farmers and women ARE becoming increasingly important in agriculture – but that’s not where I’m going today.)

central illinois harvest, auger, cornFor just a brief moment, I’d like to talk about the fact that most of our farmers are aging.  That farmers are retiring in huge numbers every day.  That there simply aren’t enough young farmers to take over.

That those large farms that scare you so?  Those might be a function of fewer farmers to farm, because young people aren’t coming back to the farm.  And fewer farmers means more ground per farmer.  (There’s also the economy of scale thing that’s pretty important here.)

We’ve seen more young farmers come back in recent years because farming was profitable.  Corn and soybeans have fetched a very fair price in recent years thanks to good market opportunity through biofuels and exports.  But that’s about to change.

Remember this post?  Farmers are losing money this year hand over fist.  And those young guys are going to have to buckle down this year and in the coming years if they want to make a life on the farm.

So this “farmer aging phenomena” is something that ag associations and organizations are paying attention to.  They are working to help older farmers make it easy to pass their farms on to the next generation.  They are reminding farmers when great market opportunities come up that make it easy to add a son or daughter to their family farm.

And then there’s this post.  It’s a great read and the inspiration behind my few words here.  Please go check it out.  But if you can’t, here’s the part I liked best.

“So, why do we have a shortage of young farmers? Coming from one, I think I’ve got a good perspective.

1. It’s hard. It is so hard to get started farming. It can cost millions of dollars to get started, and we have to take on a HUGE debt load and responsibility of paying the bank back. So, why would you invest millions in a high risk life style/career when you could potentially make that in a lesser high risk career in the city?

2. Rural America. There isn’t a whole lot to offer compared to a larger city as far as careers, entertainment and dining options. Now, I’m lucky. In my small town we have a movie theater where the tickets are $5/ticket and we have a gas station, a locally owned coffee shop and a Dairy Queen. – It’s a hopping place on a Saturday night, let me tell you. There’s just a lot more to do in larger towns.

3. The lifestyle. Farming isn’t an occupation. It isn’t something you clock in at 9 AM and can clock out by 5 PM. Guess what time my husband woke up this morning? 4:30 AM. Guess what time he’ll likely come in for the evening? About 6:30 or 7 PM. It is hard work.”

Getting started as a young farmer is expensive.  And there isn’t a lot to offer young people who appreciate the allure of a nice restaurant or a mall close by.  The days are long and hard and you really have to be invested in making it work because you love the lifestyle.  You won’t get rich quick and every penny you earn will have been an investment in hard physical labor and exhaustion.

Kuddos to the young farmers who are excited about farming every day and who make a choice to continue growing food for our world.

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

About corncorps

As Illinois' corn farmers, we're proud to power a sustainable economy through ethanol, livestock and nutritious food. We love agriculture, the land and CornBelters baseball.See http://ilcorn.org or follow us on Twitter, http://twitter.com/ilcorn.
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