Hamilton County’s Bobby Burwinkel has some fun behind a podium at the USDA. A future U.S. Secretary of Agriculture perhaps?
With all the economic doom and gloom and agricultural uncertainty, it’s one thing to want to hear from the industry’s leaders, but what about the tomorrow’s leaders, or the next generation? Do they plan to be around when this all shakes out?
The American Farm Bureau Federation released its survey of young farmers last week. Not surprisingly, it found the respondents, ages 18-35, said overall profitability and economic challenges rank as their top concerns, but 89 percent said they are better off than they were five years ago.
(No, the survey wasn’t conducted last July before the commodity price freefall; farmers were polled in February.)
I conducted my own unscientific poll with some of the same questions, talking to several young farmers traveling to Washington D.C. March 9-11 with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. Their answers mirrored those of their counterparts nationwide
“Everything concerns me a little,” said 26-year-old Bobby Burwinkel, who farms with his family in northwestern Hamilton County. He admitted, however, that being able to make a living farming tops his list.
Like the national respondents, Burwinkel said he was probably better off than he was five years ago.
And it’s hard to keep youthful enthusiasm down — even as the USDA is predicting a 20 percent drop in farm income this year. The AFBF survey found nearly half of the young farmers surveyed were more optimistic than five years ago. Twenty percent said “less optimistic,” and 32 percent said there was really no change.
Burwinkel and seventh generation farmer Mike Terry of Champaign County also counted themselves as those who are more optimistic than they were five years ago.
Both wouldn’t trade their jobs for anything and hope to be farming all of their lives.
“Yeah, it’s tough to farm in this day and age,” Terry said, “but I wouldn’t have it change.”
Nationally, the young producers ranked the availability of land and facilities as their top concern, followed by overall profitability and economic challenges. Government regulations was third, and Terry ranked that concern as No. 2 on his list, citing increasing burdens on chemical use, restrictions on new livestock facilities, and other permits, as the biggest challenge behind the current economy.
Burwinkel said any policies that lessened those regulations would be the biggest boost to his own farm — from water use restrictions that could affect his sweet corn irrigation to the road blocks that hamper his farm’s ability to deal with nuisance wildlife.
Despite the challenges, most respondents — 96 percent in the AFBF survey — say they would like to see their children follow in their footsteps.
“Farming is never easy,” commented Burwinkel. Although he’s still single, he also hopes his children would stay in farming.
“Not too many bad people come out of farms.”