Vance County Farm-City Week: Our Aging Farmers: A Looming Crisis For Our Nation?

If you happen to be a farmer, I have some important information for you: You’re not getting any younger. Sorry, don’t mean to get personal, but the 2007 Census of Agriculture reports that the average age for farmers in Vance County is almost 60. Nor is this phenomenon limited to our own community. For North Carolina as a whole, the average age is a hair over 57, while the figure is just over 58 for our nation (2012 Census of Agriculture).

Now this is not necessarily a problem over the short term, since I’ve met plenty of 70-year old farmers who could outwork me all week and twice on Sunday. We shouldn’t see bare grocery store shelves anytime soon. But in the long run, our community, state and nation depends on recruiting young folks to pick up the plow. And since recent decades have seen the daughters and sons of farmers leaving the farm for jobs in the city, the issue is complex.

Young people who are interested in farming usually lack experience, and perhaps more importantly, the capital to invest in land and expensive equipment. Comprehensive strategies to address these barriers are vital to our nation’s future. Fortunately, agriculture presents fantastic career opportunities, and it’s way more interesting that sitting on a tractor all day. Farmers today must deal with high tech equipment, manage complex pest issues, and have sharp business skills.

If you know a young person who is exploring career options, encourage them to look into the many great opportunities available in agriculture.

By Paul McKenzie, Agriculture Extension Agent, Vance County Cooperative Extension