Still the Land of Opportunity: Farm Transition in the 21st Century
Blog article written by Geri Isaacs, freelance writer and farmer from Kentucky and AgMRC contributing writer.
According to the Ag Census, the average age of the principal farm operator has increased from 50.3 in 1977 to 57.1 today. Over the next decade, half the farmers will retire and be replaced by beginning farmers.
For many of these aging farmers, one of the most pressing concerns for them is the land itself: should it stay a farm or stay in the family? 70% of farmland is projected to change hands by 2025. However, as one ag economist has observed, no industry has a stronger tradition of passing on the business and does a poorer job of doing it.
Many farmers have no well-defined transition plans and many years of stewardship can be compromised by inertia. Some of the children of these same farmers may view the farm as either a cumbersome burden or as a development opportunity instead of as a way of life.
Although farming is physically, emotionally, and financially demanding, it provides a challenging and rewarding way of life for many. However, it also requires a certain set of skills, comfort with a level of risk-taking, and a good deal of hard work: skills which are not necessarily inherited. For those willing to embrace such a lifestyle, several states now have programs designed specifically for beginning farmers.
The ideal? For the retiring farmers to link up with aspiring landless farmers –be they family or not—and establish a well-defined transition plan.
Iowa State Beginning Farmer Center
International Farm Transition Network
For information on locating areas where such opportunities exist, see the Atlas of Rural and Small Town America. Information on using this site can be found in the Amber Waves publication.