Did you know that about forty percent of the farmers in this country are 55 years old or older? I first heard this statistic from Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, at a 2010 Commodity Classic session and it really stuck with me. It got me thinking…you often hear parents talk about their childrens’ professions, “Oh, well they’re a [teacher, engineer, computer programmer…]” but it’s extremely rare, I believe, to hear someone say “my child is a farmer.”
Agriculture is increasingly overlooked as a career choice for young people. This is partly due to the nature of the industry – if you want to farm it can be difficult to raise the funds to do so and if you didn’t grow up on a farm there is a huge learning curve. The truth is, farmers in the US are getting older, and there needs to be someone to take over when they retire.
The graying of US farmers is a pretty significant concern for the future of agriculture and it’s why I was so delighted with my visit to the Muscatine Agriculture Center back in April. It’s really the most comprehensive program I’ve ever seen. Students get involved in the day to day of running a farm, and it’s mostly young people that have never stepped foot on a farm before.
Programs like the one in Muscatine, as well as agriculture youth programs such as the FFA and 4H do a great deal in bringing youth back to the farm.
While I was there I asked the students and Joel Edge, facility manager at the center, why they thought it was so important to get young people involved in agriculture. Elizabeth McKillip, a junior at Muscatine High School, said it best.
“The farming population is older and pretty soon they’re not going to be around to do it for us. We’ll need students that are involved in agriculture to take over for them.”