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Where Are All The Young Farmers?

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Have you ever had the experience of watching a television commercial; and, when it is over, you have no idea what it was for, what the message was, or even what product or company it was for?  This is not due to a bad ad agency, but is done on purpose. The reason you don’t get it is because you are not supposed to. More and more commercials are aimed at specific demographics and made to be understood by people in that demographic. When this happens in my house, I will turn to me wife and ask, “Did you get that?” She will say, “No.” Yet when I ask my children, they look at me quizzically and say, “Yes, don’t you?”  Demographic segmentation is not a new marketing idea, but it has become a lot more prevalent today.

 

The reason is the internet. It allows marketers to direct messages to individuals based on age, geography, interests, behavior, and a thousand other different factors. This trend is not limited to tweeters, bloggers, and Facebook game players, but is even being used to reach farmers.

 

The National Association of Farm Broadcasting recently conducted a national survey on farmer media usage. The purpose was to find out you all listen to, watch, read, and click on to get your farm news. The research found that farmers fall into three distinct groups with much different interest, lifestyles, and media usage patterns. According  to the research, 30% of US farmers are over 65 years of age, 50% are between 45 and 64, and 20% are under the age of 44.

 

These numbers reflect a fact we all know too well: we ain’t getting any younger.  Between 2002 and 2007, the older demographic saw a 22% increase.  But what is disturbing is that the number of farmers under 44 years of age declined by 14% during this same period.

 

What makes this trend even more significant is the fact that farmers over 65 control 29% of the nation’s planted acres and the 45-64 age group controls 49% of the planted acres in the US. This means that, over the next 40 years, the control and ownership of 80% of productive US farmland will have to change hands,  a process that is made more difficult by state and federal tax laws.

 

Starting out in farming has never been easy or cheap, but skyrocketing land prices, more sophisticated and expensive technology, and greater volatility and risk have made it even tougher for young farmers to get started.  The research profiled today’s young farmer as someone who is in a partnership with his father or other family member, has a spouse who works in town, and has several young children.  This group is characterized by its acceptance of and use of a variety of new technology.

 

Another interesting trend is in the size of farms. While farmers under 44 only control 20% of planted US farmland, the average farm size is 500 acres. This implies that, in the future, a small number of farmers will control a larger and larger amount of productive farmland. With world food demand continuing to rise and great productivity needed from American agriculture, a new generation of well-educated and well-trained farmers is needed.   Young farmers get a lot of lip service in political circles, but real reform is needed to foster the transfer our  food, fiber, and fuel production apparatus to the next generation.

 

by Gary Truitt