Facing an aging farming future

Corn Commentary
National Corn Growers Association

Often, arguments for farming practices that increase productivity are overlooked by those outside of agriculture in the United States. Decades of abundant, affordable options at the market have lulled many into the expectation that farmers will always provide for them in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

Recent data about the graying of agriculture shows exactly why this manner of thinking (or lack thereof) may be a thing of the past in the very near future. Demographic information indicates that, should trends continue, increased productivity not only per acre, but also per farmer, will be necessary to keep the harvest coming.

Farmers are getting older and subsequent generations are not entering the fields in equal numbers, according to data from the Illinois Farm Business Farm Management Association.

What will this mean for the average suburban mom at the local Safeway? It means that she is depending on a smaller number of farmers to grow the crops used for food and feed to ensure that she has the same options, at affordable prices, that her mother had only years earlier.

The population continues to grow. The numbers of young people entering farming do not. The math on this one is pretty simple.

What can we as a society do to help reverse this trend? Actually, a few things that could be easily accomplished if the collective will existed could have a positive impact in a relatively short period.

As a society, we must learn to value the people who grow our food. Think about it. How many people want to enter a profession that they grow up hearing either negative perceptions of or forecasts for an overregulated, under-appreciated tomorrow? Farmers’ children, those most likely to continue the tradition, already understand that they have to sacrifice easy access to some of the more urban amenities we take for granted. They hear about the problems facing the industry every night at dinner. Add in sensationalized pseudo-journalist’s exposes, and it becomes difficult to fault them for failing to return after college.

Think very carefully about the implications of legislation before throwing our backing behind it. When it comes down to it, although many often forget, our representatives in Washington are just that- our representatives. As a class totally reliant upon public support to survive, public discourse around issues that impact farming is vital. Next time someone begins randomly spouting off supposed facts about the farm bill, ethanol, environmental regulations, and so on, ask for proof. Ask how this affects the people who you depend upon to grow your dinner. There is a bigger picture. The 98.5 percent of people who have the ability to live off of the farm depend upon the 1.5 percent to sustain them. Thus, it only follows that the majority should recognize how unfair and punitive legislation impacting farmers impacts everyone in the end.

Support the people, institutions and industry that, day in and day out, ensure Americans continue to have the safest, most stable food supply in history. Farmers use incredible, innovative technology and methods to grow food as well as their ability to produce. Instead of overlooking the miraculous accomplishments of the past decades, during which U.S. farmers increased yields at a break-neck pace while decreasing the inputs used to do so, appreciate the modern marvels in ag.

Farmers, and their work, benefit the country as a whole. If they age without replacement, the country loses not only a wealth of knowledge, but also the individuals with the skillset and determination to keep our farms up, running and on course to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

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