"It's a trend that many in small South Dakota towns are likely noticing: fewer young people are choosing to take over the family farm," writes Casey Wonnenberg for KELO News in Sioux Falls, SD. "Now, two South Dakota State University (SDSU) researchers have received a grant to study the reasons behind the decline and how the trend impacts our economy and family life. From 2002 to 2007, the number of farmers under 25 years old decreased 30%. according to SDSU researchers Soo Hyun Cho and Kuo-Liang Chang, and they are using a grant to find out why.
"The rural communities are supported by the farm business. So, while farm population drops, what we see is a possible drop in income, which implies less infrastructure and the dying of small towns," says Chang, who is studying what decisions determine whether a family farm is kept alive, along with the economy's role. "Most family farms or the members of family farms do have second jobs or more than two jobs. The technology also pushes the farm size to get bigger and bigger. That means the young farmers, if they get lucky to have a farm to continue, they have a higher risk."
While 97% of farms are still family-owned and operated, there is a widening gap between the large farms and the small-niche farms. Just like the economy, the middle-class seems to be slipping away. For food producers, that may seem like you either get "grandfathered" in to ranching, or not at all.
To me, I see opportunity. While our family operation isn't able to support two families yet, I'm able to write from home and take part in our cattle business, while having off-farm income to help with cash flow. I'm able to save my earnings to invest in the operation further down the road, and hopefully transition the business once my parents are able to retire. In the meantime, my husband, Tyler, and I are always looking for new ways to reach smaller niche-markets or expand what we do at our place. Patience is key in all of this, of course, along with hard work, careful planning and the desire to continue a family tradition.
What do the trends look like in your neck of the woods? Are you seeing more young people pursuing careers in production agriculture? Are the small towns booming in your area or slowly dying out? How can we support and encourage young people to stay in rural communities? What has worked for you and your family? Share with us today!