The availability of land and farm facilities and overall profitability remain the top challenges of America’s young farmers and ranchers. However, they also believe they are better off today than five years ago, and they are more optimistic about the future of farming.
These are just a few of the key findings of an informal survey of young U.S. farmers and ranchers, ages 18-35, conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation. Overall, the 16th annual survey of participants in AFBF’s Young Farmer & Rancher Program, conducted during the 2008 YF&R conference held in Baltimore, Md., recently, shows the future of U.S. agriculture is in caring and competent hands.
“Despite facing some significant challenges, young farmers and ranchers are enthusiastic about the future of agriculture,” AFBF YF&R Chair Townsend Kyser said. Kyser, a farmer and catfish producer from Greensboro, Ala., was elected to lead Farm Bureau’s young farmers and ranchers in January.
Following land and facility availability (36 percent) and overall profitability (20 percent) as the two top concerns, young farmers and ranchers cite increasing urbanization and loss of farmland (14 percent), government regulations (11 percent), and the availability and costs of health care (10 percent) as the next most-pressing challenges. Land and facility availability and overall profitability have ranked high in most previous surveys.
Once again, the vast majority of young farmers and ranchers (83 percent) said they are more optimistic about farming than five years earlier. In 2007, 79 percent of those surveyed said they were more optimistic, and the percentage of respondents feeling more optimistic has hovered around 80 percent since 2004. In 2003, 61 percent said they were more optimistic.
When young farmers and ranchers were asked if they feel better off now than five years ago, 90 percent indicated they are better off now. Back in 2000, 70 percent said they were better off than five years previously, the lowest percentage since the survey’s inception in 1993.
In addition, 92 percent of today’s young farmers and ranchers see themselves remaining in farming for the rest of their lives, and 95 percent would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. Eighty-four percent believe their children will be able to follow them in farming and ranching if they choose to do so.
Most (43 percent) of the individuals surveyed said they got started in farming and ranching as a result of a family partnership, but 30 percent said they started in agriculture on their own, without benefit of family ties.
When asked what steps the federal government could take to help them continue farming and ranching, the measure cited most often was greater financial help for beginning farmers (22 percent), followed by maintaining a viable farm income safety net and strengthening private property rights (17 percent each), boosting U.S. agricultural exports and trade (15 percent) and reforming or cutting federal taxes (13 percent).
Two-thirds of survey participants said they believe farm income should come totally from domestic and international markets, while 33 percent said farm income should be supplemented by federal farm program payments. Last year, 63 percent said farm income should come totally from the marketplace, and 79 percent said so in 2006.
For the first time, young farmers and ranchers were asked if state and local issues, such as property taxes, concern them more than federal issues, and 75 percent responded in the affirmative.
“The high level of interest in local and state issues by young farmers and ranchers is encouraging. Their active involvement in Farm Bureau grassroots organizations in every state and 2,800 counties around our nation is critical as we continue working to build strong, prosperous agricultural communities,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said.
Taking care of the environment and practicing conservation stewardship are important to today’s young farmers and ranchers. Fifty-five percent said they practice conservation tillage at home, and 49 percent rotate three or more crops. Forty percent use soil/tissue analysis, and 36 percent employ integrated pest management and field scouting.
Conservation tillage has been cited as the top earth-friendly practice every year but one since the survey began in 1993. Rotation of three or more crops and soil/tissue analysis have been popular environmental initiatives for years, as well.
Not surprisingly, using technology is important to today’s young farmers and ranchers. About 90 percent have cellular telephones and computers, 46 percent have home satellite television, and 99 percent use the Internet in various ways. High-speed Internet service is used by 55 percent, followed by 27 percent with traditional dial-up service, while about 13 percent have service that relies on satellite technology.
In terms of how the general public views farmers and ranchers, 42 percent said they feel the public sees them positively. Equal numbers of respondents (29 percent each) said the public sees farmers negatively or doesn’t spend time thinking about them.
AFBF’s YF&R program includes men and women between the ages of 18-35. The objective of the program, according to Kyser, is to provide leadership in building a more effective Farm Bureau, while preserving individual freedoms and expanding opportunities in agriculture.