U.S. Census data shows fewer beginning farmers are joining the agriculture industry, according to Ani Katchova, chair of Ohio State's Farm Income Enhancement Program.
"Farm transitions have been identified as one of the major upcoming structural changes in agriculture that concerns policy makers," she told attendees of the school’s kickoff to OSU’s 2015-2016 Agricultural Policy and Outlook series.
Because of that, providing support and training for beginning farmers is quickly becoming a top priority, Katchova says. The average farmer age was 57.1 years in 2007 and 58.3 in 2012. Kachova also notes just how skewed the amount of younger farmers are versus the amount of older farmers. Among U.S. farmers, 6% are 35 years or younger, and 29% are older than 65.
And to think of a “beginning farmer” as a fresh-faced, just-out-of-college twentysomething would be inaccurate, Katchova adds.
"Most people think of beginning farmers either as young or older, second-career farmers,” she says. “However, statistics show that beginning farmers can be of any age, with the highest number of beginning farmers being mid-age."
Katchova says “beginning” and “young” farmers don’t always overlap. She defines beginning farmers as anyone with less than 10 years of experience and young farmers as anyone under the age of 35. But both groups are similar in that they say they need more support, training and access to farmland. Understanding these needs is the first step to better policies and programs that target beginning farmers, she says.
The number of beginning farmers has fallen by 20% since 2007, according to U.S. Census data.