Our cover story this month tackles a problem that affects everyone sooner or later: Aging. Stepping back to see the bigger picture, one might conclude it’s a cumbersome challenge. For instance, according to the USDA, there are slightly less farmers in the U.S. than there were 30 years ago (1982: 2.2. million; 2012 2.1 million). However, while 42 percent were age 55 or over in 1982, well more than half (62 percent) are in that same age group three decades later.
What’s more disturbing is that the number of the younger generation of U.S. farmers has steadily declined. As far back as the early 1900s, there were more than 3 million farmers age 45 or under; surpassing the number of farmers 65 years or older every year for almost a century. Since 2002, the trend has reversed but the totals remain still stagnant.
Another solemn statistic, as mentioned in the feature, the occupation of farmer is listed as one of the top ten trades with the highest suicide rates. I don’t need to fill up this page about the reasons as you are more than aware of the stress and worries that come with this industry. The combination of these circumstances attribute to our current situation.
Even as the numbers suggest a pessimistic trend, we are in no terms at a panic level overall. Some have suggested that the aging farmer is mirroring the average general workforce in age. In his 2013 study, “Putting the Age of U.S. Farmers in Perspective, Carl Zulauf, professor at The Ohio State University department of agricultural, environmental and development economics concluded as much.
“The U.S. farmer population is older than the U.S. labor force, but this has been true since 1980 and likely much earlier. The older age of farmers is consistent with farming being capital intensive. It takes time for someone to accumulate the capital necessary to compete in U.S.?style farming, either through inheritance or savings or both.”
Zulauf also summarized that the farming industry will experience “an influx of younger farmers,” however the size of its retention depends on how prosperous the industry will be over the upcoming years.
Nonetheless whether you agree that it’s a big problem or not-that-big of a problem, it’s still a problem. Especially if it’s your family that’s dealing with it, and that’s what Sally Colby’s feature is all about. On the personal level, the problem is real and requires action. We hope this story as well as the suggestions and recommendations offered help your family during such a delicate and personal situation.
I don’t want to end this column on a somber point, and since we are full steam ahead for the holidays… on behalf of the FARMING staff and Grandview Media, we would like to wish you and your family a Happy Holidays and a Wonderful, Safe New Years!