New farmers account for about 10 percent of the value of domestic farm production, according to a report from USDA’s Economic Research Service. For USDA, a “beginning farmer” is someone who’s operated a farm or ranch for 10 years or less.
The average age of principal farm operators in 2007 was 57, compared with an average of 50 in 1978. Farmers over 55 own more than half of the country’s farmland. And approximately a third of beginning farmers are also 55 and older!
However, young farmer numbers are going up as well. In 2002, there were 106,097 farmers in the 25-to-34 age range; in 2007 that figure rose to 106,735. (Read more on this report here.)
What’s the one big thing that makes it hard to start up a farming operation? Money. Capital. And since most people are three generations removed from the farm, the farm isn’t being passed down to them. Neither is the knowledge and training of how to manage a farm effectively. Not to mention, the average value of Nebraska farmland has reached record levels of $1,833 per acre, making it tough to acquire land.
Another challenge? Doing more with less. Farms — even though 98 percent are still family-owned and operated — are getting bigger and in order to survive, farmers are faced with finding efficiencies for every aspect of the business.
The age-old theory of never asking someone how old they are may still come in handy at times. Farming is a respectable career that needs to continue and we personally would like to thank the farmers that feed us, no matter what their age.