Our VoiceNews & Politics

Aging Farmers in America

Katie Bezrouch • Jan 08, 2009

Farmers in America are getting older, and younger Americans are not filling in their ranks. The USDA releases the census of agriculture results every 5 years, and they become increasingly terrifying as time goes on.  Since 1978, the average age of the farmer has been rising by about 1 year or more, each census year.

In 2002 the average age of a farmer was 55.3 years, and 26.2% were over the age of 65. The 2007 results will be announced this February, and are expected to parallel these results.

The humbling bottom line here is that aging farmers are the nation’s heartbeat, and without them, our food security is more than compromised. As petroleum prices go up, so do operating costs - and government farm subsidies are becoming inferior to the sky high expenses. To make the situation more stressful, farmers receiving crop subsidies are prohibited from growing “specialty crops” — farm-bill speak for fruits and vegetables. Encouraging this extreme mono cropping only necessitates the usage of more chemical fertilizers and pesticides….which also come from petroleum. So our stewards of the land are left with an ever dulling field of corn and soy. Taking over Ma and pa’s farm is much less romantic than it used to be…and less profitable.

The questions here are obvious. Who is going to tend the land if this average age keeps rising? And what can we do now to make sure this problem doesn’t turn into a crisis?

According to the Organic Farm Research Foundation, the average age of an organic farmer is 46, a relieving number by comparison. Why is this the case? Maybe it is the more lively, colorful lifestyle that attracts the youth, or maybe it’s the hope of a healthier future. Or it could be that younger generations are thinking more critically about the sustainability of our food chain, and snuggling up with the ideology of a simple life? Maybe younger people are more aware that while almost all large scale organic farms have some petroleum dependencies, they use about 30% less energy than conventional farms. Maybe this generation beginning to think that conventional farming is becoming an outdated practice that the earth will not support for much longer, and they are putting their muscle to it.

No matter the reason, the result is younger farmers.

And if the government gave organic farmers even a fraction of the money granted to conventional producers, the profits would increase majorly, attract more workers, and make organic food prices substantially lower. We need to work towards a more natural and logical food system. It will secure our land, our farms, and our future.

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