I’m worried about farming’s future. There are more than twice as many farmers who are 75 and older as there are 34 and younger, according to census data. The average age of the U.S. farmer is 58, and 40% of farms are poised to transition management, operation and ownership to the next generation. Who will farm the future? This question has implications not only for our farm economy and food system, but for America’s agricultural landscape.
Top Producer research shows young people want to come back to the farm, but start-up costs, land availability and capitalization needed to enter agriculture are high barriers. The biggest challenge I see is a lack of knowledge on farm business planning, commodity marketing and financing. At our Tomorrow’s Top Producer conference, which brought together young farmers from across the country, I found them craving accounting knowledge, leadership skills and marketing advice. They cannot be successful in today’s high-risk world of farming without these skills.
Think about it this way: 10% of producers account for 85% of U.S. ag output. That represents about 209,000 farms. Of that, only 12,000 owner-operators are under age 35, representing less than 6% of all commercial farms. When today’s farms pass on to that next generation, there will be a lot riding on young shoulders.
It’s time for young farmers to get serious about business education. Start with educational seminars, such as our Tomorrow’s Top Producer program, and local finance training offered by your bank or Extension office. There are more formalized programs, like The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP) at Texas A&M University. Or consider joining a peer group, such as the Top Producer Executive Network (TPEN).
Get Inspired. It’s true the coming transition worries me. Yet I do have hope for farming’s future. I need look no further than Matt Sims, winner of our Tomorrow’s Top Producer Horizon Award, who is featured on page 12. Since joining the farm in 2005, Sims has made the 77-year-old family operation more profitable and efficient while expanding its acreage base. The stable growth comes from Sims’ constant calculations of cost of production, asset allocation and profit levels.
Top Producer provides the business skills you need to be successful. Watch for information geared toward young farmers, and visit us online at topproducer-online.com. Good luck to Sims and other young producers who will feed the future. We’ve got your back.