According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, farmers over the age of 65 outnumber farmers under the age of 35 by a ratio of 6-to-1. While the average age of a Niman Ranch farmer is 48 years old, the average age in America sits at 58 years. What opportunities exist to grow the number of young farmers nationally?
Because of a host of barriers not faced by previous generations, many young farmers are unable to start their own farm or take over the family business. We’ve seen issues range from skyrocketing land prices and student loan debt to difficulty taking out reasonable loans or finding reliable work. Inheriting land isn’t enough to allow for a farm to thrive financially these days, and with more than one child in many farm families, most of those who vie to take over have to find their own land regardless.
That’s why we started our Next Generation Scholarship Fund, which offers substantial scholarships to children of our farmers who currently seek a higher education so they can return to the land. Students apply at the beginning of the year and are awarded at our annual Farmer Appreciation Dinner in Iowa.
More efforts are needed, though, to lighten the burden faced by beginning farmers. That’s where the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) comes in. In late 2009, three farmers in the Hudson Valley sat down together around a farmhouse table to talk about the challenges facing them and their peers. They’ve since grown their network to fight for a future in which anyone who is willing to work hard, get training and take on a little risk can do so more easily.
Through their grassroots advocacy work, they’ve won funding for farmer training programs in the Farm Bill, launched a micro-loan program with the Farm Service Agency and introduced a bill in Congress that would add farmers to a federal loan forgiveness program.
This isn’t a fight they can win alone—NYFC has a large membership of farmers who lend their voices and their financial support.
We’re proud to work with NYFC, and you could be too. Become a member for as little as $3 per month to get involved. Funds raised go towards results-based activities like bringing young farmers to D.C. to speak to Congress or hosting workshops on accessing affordable farmland. As a member, not only do you gain representation in Washington, you also receive discounts at more than a dozen farm-based retailers. If you’re a farmer looking to join or start a chapter near you, visit their website for more information.
Over the next 25 years, 573 million acres of American farmland will need a new farmer to manage it. If you want to see that land fall into the right hands, purchase products raised by family farmers and support organizations focused on issues that impact young farmers today.