Contrary to what the 2011 Census of Agriculture indicates, there’s a youth movement in agriculture.
Farm meetings that used to be dominated by grey hair or no hair now have a healthier proportion of young men and women.
And if you think young people aren’t passionate about agriculture, check out Twitter.
Yes, the census data continues to show a decline in the number of farm operators younger than 35. But being involved in the farm and even being the heir apparent to the operation doesn’t mean you’ll show up in the stats as a farm operator.
Plus, many in the older generation are hanging onto the farm into their late 60s and 70s. Farming is fun when you’re making money and the technology continually improves. Many older farmers enjoy working with their family and don’t have anything else they’d rather do.
The stats may also be skewed by people retiring from professional careers or other business ventures to come back to the farm. Even though they’re mid-50ish, they are new farmers.
Until five or six years ago, the farm didn’t look like a lucrative option compared to a job in the resource sector. Now, there’s some serious money being generated, particularly on grain operations.
Profitable years were fleeting in the past, seemingly just a blip. This time, there’s a feeling, whether right or wrong, that the paradigm has shifted. It’s hoped that improved economics have become the norm.
Young people who were helping out on the family farm while working elsewhere are spending more time on the farm. Many have quit their off-farm employment or business to farm full time, and they’re making their own farming investments.
There’s a noticeable distinction between farms that have a family successor and those who don’t.
Interest by the younger generations gives a farm purpose and motivation. It also encourages new technology and innovation. Without a family heir, farms are much less likely to be expansion-minded.
It’s also interesting to see how farms without family succession are targeted by other operations wanting to expand. It can be a little like vultures circling as they wait for the day when the land will be rented or sold. Old Pete and Audrey never had so many “friends.”
The new problem for the younger generation is how to expand the farm when land prices and cash rents are skyrocketing. Everyone’s wish for profitability in the grain sector has been granted. The natural consequence is a lot of people wanting to farm more ground.
The common refrain six years ago was, “young people are never coming back to the farm when they can’t make a decent living.” Now the mantra is, “how can young people afford to get a start in farming at these land prices?”
But many are trying and it’s leading to difficult family situations. What if there’s more than one son or daughter who wants to farm, but the operation just isn’t large enough to support that many people?
And how do you treat non-farming children equitably? If Johnny is getting the farmland, equipment and the grain storage, it’s usually difficult to provide Susie and Jimmy with anything close to comparable value. This has always been a problem, but it becomes more difficult as land values rise.
While there are new challenges, it’s great to see the youth movement in agriculture, even if it isn’t being captured in the official stats.