Young farmer optimism running high

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WASHINGTON – Young farmers and ranchers this year expressed an unprecedented high level of optimism regarding their futures in agriculture, but said they continue to be challenged by overall profitability and would like to see government do more to help young people just starting out in farming.

Increased optimism. The 12th annual survey of participants in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer and Rancher Program, revealed that 81 percent of the respondents said they were more optimistic about agriculture than five years ago.

That’s up more than 20 percentage points from last year and the highest level of optimism since the survey’s inception in 1993.

The previous high mark for stated optimism was 80.7 percent in 1997.

That was one of the key findings of this year’s survey of 342 young farmers and ranchers from 45 states, ages 18-35.

On a mission. Overall, the survey revealed that young farmers and ranchers are committed to their mission of providing food, fiber and fuel for the nation, while they care for the environment and invest in new technology to sharpen their business skills for today’s competitive world.

For the sixth straight year, America’s young farmers and ranchers said the biggest challenge facing them is overall profitability.

And, for the first time ever, the young farmers said providing help to beginning farmers and ranchers was the best way the government could help.

In good hands. “Young farmers and ranchers are truly excited about the future of agriculture and the roles they will continue to play in producing the world’s safest and most abundant food supply,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

“All Americans should share that excitement because this survey shows that the future of American agriculture is in competent, capable and caring hands.”

In spite of their high level of optimism, overall profitability (18.6 percent) was the top concern cited by the young farmers and ranchers. That mark, however, fell considerably from last year’s 31.9 percent.

Challenges. The young farmers indicated the limited availability of land and other resources was their second highest challenge, selected by 16.5 percent of respondents, also down from last year’s 21.9 percent.

Third on this year’s list of challenges was the cost of government regulations (15.7 percent, up from 13.6 percent in 2003).

Over the survey’s 12-year history, profitability has topped the list of concerns nine times and regulations three times.

The fourth biggest challenge on this year’s list was the availability of healthcare, selected by 10 percent of the respondents.

Fifth on the list (9.3 percent) was the challenge of urban encroachment on farmland, followed by challenges related to parental control of farm decisions (8.1 percent), the availability of water (7.3 percent) and agricultural financing (5.2 percent).

Help the beginners. When asked the most important step the U.S. government could take, nearly a quarter of the young farmers (23 percent) said they would like more help for beginning farmers.

That was last year’s second-place choice with 14.5 percent in 2003. Just three years ago, help for beginning farmers was only in fifth place.

After six consecutive years in the top spot, boosting U.S. agricultural exports slipped to second spot this year with 19.2 percent, a drop from 2003’s 24.1 percent.

Other suggestions. Federal tax reform was third with 13.4 percent, while strengthening protection for property owners (11.7 percent) and mandating an enhanced role for renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel (9.6 percent) rounded out the top five.

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