A new generation of American farmers is on the rise. We’ve polished our planters, calibrated cultivators, started our engines, and are ready to feed 7.6 billion people — the current world population.
According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, 25 percent of U.S. farmers are beginning farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines beginning farmers as those who have operated a farm less than 10 years. The USDA does not include age parameters in their definition of beginning farmers, but the American Farm Bureau Federation and Farm Credit define young farmers as 35 and under.
What makes young farmers unique?
Young farmers’ desire to farm is value-driven. We want to feed our families high-quality food, and aim to produce the same for consumers. Young farmers are committed to land stewardship. Many use sustainable farming and conservation practices on their farms. According to the USDA Census, beginning farmers are more likely to seek organic certification. Beginning farmers’ organic sales account for 26 percent of the value of organic sales.
Young farmers seek new technologies to improve farm efficiency, productivity and profitability. We are open to innovation and eager to adopt precision agriculture, tracking systems, GPS and drone technology to benefit our operations.
We want to make meaningful connections with customers. Beginning farmers are more likely to sell products direct-to-consumers at farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA), and roadside stands. Beginning farmers’ sales account for 22 percent of all direct-to-consumer sales.
We enjoy meeting and learning from our peers. The American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program, and state programs such as the Ohio Farm Bureau’s Young Agricultural Professionals, bring young farmers together for networking and fellowship.
Young farmers gravitate towards collaboration rather than competition. Cooperatives, partnerships, land agreements, equipment and labor sharing, and teamwork make us stronger together.
Challenges young farmers face
Young farmers face land-access challenges. The U.S. national average price of cropland was $4,090 per acre in 2017; pastureland $1,350 per acre. As a result, we operate smaller farms with fewer acres and lower production.
We have difficulty navigating financing, conservation, crop insurance and other support programs. Complicated applications and lengthy processing times are burdensome, not only for applicants but also for landowners and lenders. As a result, beginning farmers receive less in support payments than established farmers.
Beginning farmers’ have lower than average agricultural sales. Our sales account for just 15 percent of all agricultural sales in the U.S. Beginning farmers also have higher expense-to-sales ratios. Lagging sales may be the result of fewer acres, lower production, limited resources or reduced access to profitable market channels.
Support for beginning farmers
Government agencies actively seek agricultural partners to help beginning farmers navigate support programs and access resources. The USDA recently launched a new website aimed at helping new farmers find support, https://newfarmers.usda.gov/.
Land-grant universities offer education and technical assistance to help young farmers with business and financial planning, enterprise budgeting and marketing. To learn more about the Ohio State University Extension New and Small Farm programming visit https://agnr.osu.edu/small-farm-programs/new-and-small-farm-college.
- “Beginning Farmers: Characteristics of Farmers by Years on Current Farm.” (June 2014). 2012 Census of Agriculture Highlights ACH12-5. USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service.
- “Farmland Value.” (2017). USDA Economic Research Service. Retrieved August 31, 2017, from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/land-use-land-value-tenure/farmland-value/
- “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision.” (June 2017). United Nations Department of Economics and Social Affairs.