A survey conducted earlier this year by the National Young Farmers Coalition highlights the far-reaching set of challenges faced by today’s young growers.
The survey included responses from more than 3,500 past, current, and aspiring growers under 40 years old across the U.S. who are producing a wide range of crops. Around 38% of the respondents said they grew flowers, and 14% produced greenhouse, nursery, or floriculture crops.
According to the survey, growers over the age of 65 now outnumber those under 35 by a margin of six to one, and U.S. farmland is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of older farmers. Nearly two-thirds of farmland is currently managed by someone over 55.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that over the next five years (the lifespan of the next farm bill), nearly 100 million acres of U.S. farmland are expected to change ownership and will need a new grower.
Fortunately, many young Americans are stepping up and launching new agriculture-based businesses. For only the second time in the last century, the 2012 Census of Agriculture registered an increase over the previous census in the number of farmers under 35 years old. These young farmers are entrepreneurial and tough, but they are finding that talent and hard work alone may not equate to farm success. There are many structural barriers standing in their way.
Young farmers face serious obstacles to launching and growing their farm businesses: they can’t afford to buy land or property; student debt is compromising their ability to capitalize their businesses; adequate labor and support staff are difficult to recruit; and health insurance is unaffordable. Federal and state policies are underserving these needs, and many young growers are not accessing the programs designed to help.
The survey illustrates a challenging economic picture for young growers. Sixty-one percent of individual respondents reported needing another job to make ends meet, and fewer than half own all the acres they’re farming. Indicators tracked by USDA also suggest trends in the agricultural economy are hitting young farmers especially hard. According to Dr. Robert Johansson, USDA’s Chief Economist, young farmers and those who rent more of their land tend to be far more in debt relative to their assets.
The top challenges faced by young growers are as follows:
• Access to land
• Student loan debt
• Access to labor
• Health insurance
For complete survey results and insights from growers in the field, check out the report from the National Young Farmers Coalition.