The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released the 2017 Farmer Census results and, while there are a few bright spots, overall the trends are troubling. The new data found that:
Farmers are Getting Older
- The average age of “primary producers” – the main person responsible for the farm—is 59.4 years, up from 58.3 in 2012.
- For every farmer under 35, there are more than 6 who are over 65.
The Number of Farms and Farmland is Shrinking
- There are 2.04 million farms and ranches (down 3.2 percent from 2012).
- The total amount of U.S. land in farms fell 1.6% between 2012 and 2017 to 900,217,576 acres. 175 acres of farmland are developed every hour in the U.S.
Farmers are Facing Financial Challenges
- 56.4% of farms lost money in 2017 and farmer debt rises with every passing year.
- Seventy five percent of all agricultural sales are now coming from just five percent of farms.
Thankfully, here at Niman Ranch we are able to tell a different story.
Our farmer network is getting younger
- The average age of our farmer is 43. In 2012, our farmers were about 4 years older than the U.S. average, which set us on a path to proactively support the next generation of sustainable farmers. When we last calculated our average farmer age in 2017 it was 47 and today it’s 43. This dramatic change is due to our Young Farmer 2.0 plan where we offer mentorship, education, loans, long-term contracts, starter pigs, scholarships, and other crucial support to make it feasible for a young person to make a viable career farming.
Our farmers are fairly compensated
- We pay our farmers a premium for raising their hogs to our high standards. This stands in stark contrast to the industrial commodity hog market where farmers make around $4 to $5 a pig. We provide stable payments that are not dependent on the dramatic fluctuations of the commodity market and ensure steady demand from our reliable customer base.
Our farmer network is growing
- We had just one farmer, Paul Willis, when we started our pork division in 1995 and since that time we have continually added new family farmers to our network, now totaling more than 740. We are committed to double this number of farms over the coming decade. We already have a long wait list of farmers who share our commitment to sustainability and animal welfare looking to join the Niman Ranch network and we are slowly but surely adding them on as our customer base grows.
While we are small when compared to the industrial agriculture sector, there are lessons to be learned from our success.
- First and foremost, we do everything we can to ensure our farmers are able to make a living as Niman Ranch partners. If our farmer partners fail, we fail. If our farmers thrive, Niman Ranch thrives.
- Second, you don’t need to get big to be successful. Rather, we have focused on growing our business by working with more small and mid-size farmers and finding the best customers who share our passion for a better farming system and the finest tasting meat.
We are proud that we have been able to support traditional farming practices in the face of such bleak trends in the sector. We challenge other agriculture companies to find ways to put their farmers first and for eaters to vote with their forks and support sustainable farmers and ranchers in the U.S.