How Do You Define Farming And Ranching?

img_2488.JPG A few weeks ago, I received a comment from a reader on my blog post entitled, "Heck Yeah, I Want To Be A Farmer!" My blog entry was about the growing number of young people who want to be in production agriculture. Acknowledging the many obstacles there are for getting into production agriculture at a young age, I closed that entry by asking readers to encourage young people to stay close to their roots and pursue farming and ranching careers. The comment I received below offered an opposing view you might find interesting. Here is the comment and my response.

Here is the comment from the reader:

Many are concerned about the image of farmers & ranchers. Perhaps we have included too much of the “agriculture industry” in that image. 43% of young people at a conference may desire to have a career in agricultural, but what do they consider agriculture? Those selling feed and writing magazine articles are not farmers or ranchers; they are salesmen and journalists working for companies who exist because of farmers and ranchers. Many young people are working “off the farm” until the older generation either gives up or dies. Then they want to inheritate the “family business” without paying taxes or having other complications--just step in. Young people going into these careers that are touted as being in agriculture are fooling themselves and others. Why didn’t you go back to the ranch to earn your living? It was too much work and didn’t support the kind of lifestyle you wanted. That is fine and certainly your choice, but you are not “in” agriculture. You go to conferences, read and talk to people about agriculture. I am not saying that salesmen and journalist are not important jobs and it certainly doesn’t hurt to get information from many sources whatever your business is. Again, we taint the image of who farmers and ranchers are by including others who certainly are not. If a young person wants to be involved in the family business they should be encouraged to do so and not put it off until the next generation is gone, but jump right in. Otherwise go to town, get a job and don’t pretend to be a farmer or rancher.

Below is my response:

You bring up some good points and I appreciate your insights on this topic. I disagree, however, with your narrow definition of a farmer or rancher. Less than 2% of American citizens are involved in agriculture today, so what is wrong with broadening the traditional definition? Is the rancher married to a nurse who brings home a regular paycheck and benefits not still a rancher? Is the college graduate who studied journalism and supplements her cattle costs with free-lance articles and blogs not still in the cattle business? Is the feed salesman who is saving money to buy a quarter of land to expand his operation, not in essence, still a rancher? Is the beef producer who judges county fairs on the weekends, or diversifies his operation with wildlife, photography or tourism, still not a beef producer?

If we think in broader terms, the 43% of students who hope to one day work in production agriculture will have a chance to realize their dream. Maybe it won’t look the same as it did 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago, but with the average age of the American farmer exceeding 55 years old, the next generation (myself included) will have some very big shoes to fill. And, if it takes some supplemental income to get on the right track, I don’t see that as something to be ashamed of. So, I reassert my point that we shouldn't turn our backs on those who do things differently, but rather encourage them to forge ahead and become the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

Reader challenge: I welcome any additional thoughts on this topic from all BEEF Daily readers. What is your definition of a farmer or rancher? Is supplemental income a bad thing? What do you think about the above conversation? What is your situation? How do you make your farm and ranch operation tick?

P.S. Have you sent in your photos for the NEW Kids and Cattle Photo Contest? Email me your best photos at to qualify for awesome prizes! (Stay tuned for a photo gallery of reader photos!)