The Future of Farming
I’m the 4th generation of my family to farm. So I can assure you that the idyllic pictures of farmers in neatly washed and pressed shirts and jeans strolling through fields of hay or corn you often see depicted in magazines are just that idyllic. Trust me-I should have bought stock in Tide years ago. Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s not a bad life-just dirtier than it looks. And one that needs to be passed on to future generations.
But in addition to families who’ve been farming for generations, evidence shows that more and more young people (in their 20’s and 30’s) find that dirt and grime alluring-more so than the uncertainties of the corporate world or factories and shift work. As a matter of fact, a recent report by the Associated Press tells us that university agriculture programs have seen a steady increase in enrollment as is the case with other agricultural training programs.
At the present time, over 60% of our country’s farmers are age 55 or older, so this statistic tells us the new-found interest in farming by younger people is timely. Younger farmers are needed to insure the stability of our nation’s agricultural well-being. The need for young farmers hasn’t been lost on our nation’s leaders, either. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is asking that Americans provide our country with 100,000 new farmers over the next few years. And in an effort to emphasize their resolve in keeping farming strong, the government has gotten behind Secretary Vilsack’s call by improving both the access and availability of grants, loans and programs to fund start-up or improvements.
In addition to the new farms, though, existing farm families need to do their part by encouraging (not forcing) their children and grandchildren to carry on the tradition of the family farm. We all know, however, that children have a mind of their own, so it’s important to have an open mind when preparing to pass the torch.
Nurturing a love for farming needs to start when your children are young. You can do this by:
- Allowing them to reap the benefits of their labors. For instance, if their job is to gather the eggs, let them sell the eggs and have a portion of the profits, give them a section of the garden to care for and sell the produce or allow them to earn a percentage of the money from the sale of livestock in exchange for feeding and cleaning stalls.
- Encourage them to participate in 4-H. The 4-H experience give children self-confidence, teaches responsibility and accountability and opens the door to a wide variety of interests.
- Work side by side. Yes, it may take longer to fix the tractor, plant the corn, rake the hay or weigh the lambs, but children take a greater interest in things they are given the opportunity to experience.
- Express your appreciation for their help. Farming is a business and it’s important to remember that farm chores aren’t the same as making your bed and keeping your room clean. It’s wrong to just expect them to help.
- Listen to your teens and be open-minded to diversification. Does your child want to take the farm in a different direction?
Listen to them and help them investigate the possibilities, feasibility and profitability of doing so. The future of farming is paramount to the success of our society, but the life of a farmer isn’t for everyone. So if your children don’t want to follow in your footsteps, accept it and encourage them to be successful at whatever it is they aspire to do, because you know as well as anyone that farming is one job you have to love in order to do it justice.