Who will farm the land? That’s a question many people have been asking as the U.S. farm population became grayer. (The last figures I saw put the average age of the U.S farmer at 57.)
There was a time when growers discouraged their children from following in their footsteps or advised them to learn another profession and – if they still wanted to farm – come back later. Some joked that bringing their children into the operation bordered on child abuse.
High commodity prices led more youngsters back to the farm or encouraged them to consider careers in ag-related fields. Enrollment at the nation’s colleges of agriculture has risen to unprecedented levels and remains high.
Now that many of those young producers are experiencing their first ag recession, resulting from a 40-percent decline in row crop prices, what’s the outlook for the future of the U.S. farmer? Will many of these new entrants to the business start drifting into other careers?
It’s difficult to draw generalizations based on random conversations with the young farmers I meet, but I don’t think so. These younger growers seemed to be every bit as committed for the long haul as their parents or grandparents.
Some of them are like James Wray, who farms with his father, Eddie, and mother, Annette, near Payneway in northeast Arkansas. Wray, a 2014 graduate of Arkansas State University, is in his second year as a fulltime farmer.
In late September, Wray harvested soybeans that averaged 118.8 bushels per acre, the highest yield ever recorded in Arkansas, for the Growing for the Green Soybean Yield Challenge. In an interview, Wray said he wasn’t pushing the soybeans that hard; he just wanted to see if he could top 100 bushels.
Two other young Arkansas farmers, Layne Miles, Chicot County, and Michael Taylor Jr., Phillips County, broke the 100-bushel mark set by the Grow for the Green program this fall. Both are innovative growers who are willing to try new technologies if it improves their bottom line.
Dozens of other young growers I’ve met in the last two years are living their dream of being farmers and embracing the challenges. Let’s hope they all can continue.