By Melissa Beck, Editor
The stereotypical image of the old farmer is actually closer to fact than fiction. The average age of the American farmer, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, is 58.3 years. Farmers I’ve spoken to aren’t encouraging their children to stay on the farm. “No, in fact I’ve strongly encouraged them to find jobs away from the farm.” says an Arkansas farmer I visited with at a recent event. The reasons this generation of farmers are discouraging the next are varied and personal, but lets use what we know to surmise what may be driving this trend. Here are ten reasons NOT to farm:
1. Land prices and availability: Although there is large variation by state, according to the latest USDA Land Values Summary farm real estate averages close to $3,000 per acre and cropland is around $4,000 per acre and pasture land averages $1,300 per acre. According to the American Farmland Trust we lose nearly 40 acres of farmland every hour. That is a significant loss of our fertile farmland.
2. Government regulation: A great example, even though the Supreme Court came down on the side of landowners in their May 31 ruling restricting the ability of the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to use the Clean Water Act to designate waters on private land as “Waters of the United States” it essentially allows landowners to challenge these two government agencies in court. According to Legal News Line the EPA sent the following statement: “EPA is reviewing the decision with the Department of Justice and the Army Corps of Engineers, this decision does not affect the Clean Water Rule of scope of the Clean Water Act Jurisdiction. It would be wise to pay attention to this regulation as it evolves.
4. Weather: Along with the markets, weather is one of those threats that farmers have to plan for with risk protection. Even with a safety net it is disheartening to lose a crop to mother nature.
5. Long hours: The average hours reported for farm labor is 50 hours per week. It’s worth noting the hours will be shorter in the slow season and longer during harvest, or other peek seasons. (according to a 2011 Iowa State University publication “Wages and Benefits for Farm Employees”)
6. Debt: According to Creighton University’s Rural Mainstreet Economic Outlook report, 73.5% of bankers increased collateral requirements, 50% increased interest rates and 35.3% rejected a higher number of farm loans because of the weakened agriculture economy. According to Ag Economists.com quoting the USDA Economic Research Service farm debt is at an all time high of $327 billion. For giggles, go window shopping for farm equipment, or go online and look at the prices of farms for sale.
7. Lack of respect from consumer/customer: While our American farmers were busy trying to make a living a disturbing trend emerged, and now some are playing catch-up trying to tell the story of Agriculture, some are ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away.
8. Dirty and dangerous: Farming and ranching came in sixth on Time Magazine’s list of most dangerous jobs. As for dirty, I think this needs no explanation.
9. High risk: see all the above.
10. The decline of rural communities: A personal example as a cautionary tale, we live in a rural community that lost its school to consolidation. Not long after that the little store that we would buy fuel, lunch or groceries in a pinch went out of business. The school building sits with broken windows and the store is empty. Additionally the population is declining so is our tax base causing our local County Extension office to cut staff and programs. Here’s a great summary of what’s happening.
In conclusion, times are tough for those of us who choose vocations in agriculture, but we are tough too. Next time I’ll look at ten reasons why someone should want to be involved in agriculture.