It comes as no surprise that one of the biggest challenges facing agriculture today is getting young and beginning farmers to begin a career in farming. There are many obstacles for a beginning or young farmer to overcome including limited access to land, high land prices and high input costs.
I was recently reminded of this challenge while attending Annie’s Project, a women farm manger class. In this class of 16 women, my guess would be, only three of us are in our 20s. I would guess that there are a couple women in their 30s and the rest would be 40s or older. Everyone’s reason for attending the class is different; some run their own farms, some run a farm alongside their husbands, a few want to start a farm or they’ve recently inherited a farm.
According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture there are 2.1 million farm operators in the United States. The average age of the U.S. farmer is 58 years old. Of those 2.1 million farmers 86 percent are men and 52 percent have a different primary occupation. However, the statistics we should pay close attention to is that 22 percent have been in operation fewer than 10 years, 6 percent are under 35 years old, 61 percent are 35-54 years old and 33 percent are 65 years old and older. The number of beginning farmers is down 20 percent from 2007.
So where do we go from here? How do we make starting a farm more obtainable for beginning farmers? I don’t know what the answers are but I do know that as the world population continues to rise we will have to come up with a way to meet the growing global demand.
According to the Associated Press, lawmakers in Missouri announced new legislation that would create tax incentives for Missouri landowners to work with beginning farmers, which will hopefully attract start-up farms. Senate Bill 177 and House Bill 387, labeled as the “Missouri New Farmers Act,” have been filed in both the House and Senate. The Missouri Times explains that the bill authorizes $12 million in new tax credits to support new Missouri farmers. The legislation makes $8 million in tax credits available for the sale of existing farmland to a beginning farmer through the Agricultural Asset Transfer Agreement. An additional $4 million will be made available for existing farmers who hire younger, newer farmers to work their land through the Custom Farming Contract Tax Credit. The bill will also create a Beginning Farmer’s Center at the University of Missouri extension which will provide additional resources for new farmers.
Missouri may be in the beginning stages but let’s hope that more states begin to invest in the future of agriculture and help make it possible for our great nation to continue to be a leader in food production.