Studies are showing that fewer young people are being drawn to farming and ranching for a living. Starting a farm requires other capital than just land, you need to invest in things like tractors, fuel and seed.
Erich Schneider. who grew up on a farm and has been farming as a third generation farmer for 36 years, says attracting the younger generation into the farming industry is vital; the hard part for them is getting started.
Part of the challenge in attracting new blood to the industry is the high cost of starting and sustaining a farming and ranching operation. Land and equipment costs have ballooned along with seed, livestock, fertilizer, diesel and other operating expenses.
“Unless you inherit equipment or land or have a large amount of cash, the costs to get started from scratch is terrible. Getting family support financially and with equipment is almost a must for a young farmer to get started,” said Schneider.
The U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture said the 2007 agricultural census, the most recent data available, shows that for every farm operator nationally under the age of 35, there are six over 65.
The average age of the main farm operator in 2007 was 57, almost two years older than the average from the previous census in 2002.
In Texas, the average farmer's age was closer to 59.
“I have not studied the numbers, but I suspect that many people, including farmers, need to work longer before they retire. In addition, many family members connected with the farm depend on the farm for income regardless of someone’s age,” said Schneider.
The aging problem is only one of several concerns that threaten Texas agriculture. Schneider, who grows cotton, grain sorghum, and corn on around 4,300 acres of land outside Sinton, Texas, says costs have gone up for equipment, ag supplies and production over the past 20 years.
“In my opinion, the crop prices were more relevant to equipment cost and production yields back then,” said Schneider.
Many farmers and ranchers remain optimistic that an industry accustomed to challenges will overcome this aging roadblock.
“You have to be optimistic to farm. God has helped me overcome roadblocks for 36 years. When the roadblock becomes too great, I guess that’s when I retire,” said Schneider.
But if new farmers do get in the business, there are increasing monetary rewards at least for now. Crop and livestock prices have jumped in the past few years.
“Usually there are more opportunities to jump into the game when things don’t look good. USDA has some good programs for starting farmers. But once you’re in, you have a tremendous amount of debt, and with fluctuation in farm prices, it’s really uncertain whether you’re going to be able to pay off that debt," said Schneider.
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