Will good farms pass the baton?

Last week, a busload of Pennsylvania farmers visited three dairy farms in eastern Ohio as part of a dairy profitability tour. I caught up with the group when it stopped at Jack and Susie Lora’s farm just outside of Salem.
The group also toured Paradise Valley Farms, home of the Paul Ramsey family, in Louisville, and the Jersey farm of Bill and Debbie Grammer near Sebring.
Many faces of farming. The stops spotlighted the diversity of family farming. The Loras milk around 40 head of registered Holsteins in a tie-stall barn. There’s no off-farm income and Jack and Susie handle all the work, helped by their college-age daughter, Katey.
Paradise Valley, on the other hand, supports multiple households within the family, and milks nearly 400 head of Holsteins three times a day. The farm is well-known in Holstein circles for its breeding success: It currently has 15 bulls being sampled by A.I. studs.
Grammer Dairy is home to Bill and Debbie Grammer and their two young sons. The Grammers recently expanded their facilities and are milking 500 head of registered Jerseys.
Three dairies, three families, three different faces of today’s well-managed, profitable farms.
I’m often asked about the future of farming. My powers of prediction are no stronger than yours, but I’m buoyed by families like these three – families who recognize their strengths, and build on them.
Tomorrow’s farmer. The 2002 U.S. Ag Census was the first census to track who’s involved in farm decision-making, the first to identify not only principal farm operators, but additional operators and multiple generations.
For the first time, USDA estimated the number of all farmers, not just an operation’s principal farmer.
The average age – 55.3 – of all U.S. principal farm operators increased more than one year since the last ag census in 1997. But the good news is that the average ages of second and third operators were lower, and the percentages of operators under 35 were higher.
Who will take over? To throw just a couple more numbers your way: Only 5.8 percent of principal operators are under 35, but 11.8 percent of second operators and 35.7 percent of third operators are under 35.
You could say on more than a third of U.S. farms, Dad is still the primary operator; Mom is the second operator and their son or daughter is operator No. 3. There are younger producers waiting in the wings of many farms.
The data aren’t all rosy. Less than 10 percent of farms reported operators from different generations working on the same farm. There are many more farms where there aren’t younger producers waiting in the wings.
I read earlier this month that 70 percent of farmland will be transferred in the next 15 years. The issue of farm ownership transition should be a hot topic for farm groups – and stronger efforts to link older and younger farmers should be made.
We need to know there will be a Lora or Ramsey or Grammer – no matter what the last name – waiting to host that next bus tour of farmers who want to visit some of the best.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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