Getting Young People Back to the Farm is Critical

By Shaun Haney

With the advancing average age of the North American farmer we have a critical situation at hand.   We need to get more young people in the business of farming.   Now I am not talking about getting more young people into the ag-industry.  I am talking about getting them on the farm and not just working for Monsanto or Pioneer.

Many of us see the new young sales representative working for “company xyz” that grew up on a farm on the prairies or in the midwest.  The question is how do we get more of these people that are obviously interested in agriculture more interested in actually be involved in primary production?

For many years we have thought the reason people were not coming back to farm was because of lack of potential profitability and high opportunity costs.  I have a couple theories why more people are not coming back to the farm to try on you.

  1. Maybe people are not coming back to the farm because as an industry we are so terrible at farm succession.  Most farm in North America are family owned and with that comes succession planning. Succession planning in family business is very difficult to comes to grips with and I think it is even worse in agriculture.  Due to the fact we are not getting better at succession planning on the farm, the result is more families coming to the conclusion that a sale is better than a family that is broken.  This is resulting in less opportunities for people to come back to the farm.
  2. Due to the increasing capital requirements have we raised the barriers to entry to the point where consolidation is enabled.  This is no different than independent crop input retailers, fertilizer manufacturers and biotech providers.  If you want to farm you increasingly need to be able to acquire more debt and consequent risk.  There were a lot of farms that were transfered in the last generation that were debt free and this will not be the case with the next generation.  With a farming operation comes debt and risk.

What do you think?  Why are people not coming back to the farm?  Is it profitability concerns, farm succession, high opportunity costs, high capital requirements, etc?

I had the opportunity to talk to Rosie Templeton from Coaldale Alberta at the Tiffin Conference 2010, about what she thinks about a career in agriculture. Rosie is in high school and is a champion 4-H speaker.  Her family ranches and is very active in their community.  I asked Rosie about her perspective on a career in agriculture and what she thinks her peers are considering.

If you cannot see the below video of Rosie, Click Here

 

Shaun Haney

Shaun grew up on a family seed farm in Southern Alberta. Haney Farms produces, conditions and retails wheat, barley, canola and corn seed. Shaun Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com. @shaunhaney

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4 Comments

James Nakashima

This is an interesting article. The high capital cost is certainly a barrier to new farmers, but for children of existing farmers, I find a big stumbling block is that the children simply don’t want to farm. I fall into that category – I grew up on a farm and I had no desire to become a farmer. Looking back, in my case, I suppose succession planning was part of the issue. With two older brothers and my dad on the farm, there was no need for a fourth Commander-in-Chief on the farm. Had I decided to stay on the farm, we really had no plan on how to handle having four guys running the farm. Aside from that, I also did not particularly enjoy farming, but that’s just me.

The succession planning issue, while definitely true, is not limited to farms – all family businesses face the succession planning problem and few of them are good at handling it.

I do not believe consolidation of farms is necessarily a bad thing. Due to many of the reasons you pointed out (high cost of capital, increasing risk, etc.), I find that many of the farms that are able to be profitable, tend to be bigger farms. The small scale operations typically are not profitable, unless they are exceptionally well managed. So from that perspective, while there is definitely a need to have younger people on the farm, I think the the more pressing need is to ensure that the kids who do farm, are trained and educated to properly manage their operation. This may mean fewer kids taking over the farm, but the ones who do, have to be better at farming than their parents were.

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Denis Gregoire

Denis Says : Young people from the farm know how hard their parents have worked,they have heard their parent talk about the risks etc. Their are alot of golden opportunities for farm grown kids outside of ag. These kids know what work and stress is. They tend to succed outside of farming. 8-5 jobs with pensions etc. Monday- Fri. Holidays etc. A lot less stress. Dont forget farming is a globel enterprize we compete with producers from around the world. There Countries help out maybe more than our country. We want young farmers,good food etc. Poor Ag policies. Denis

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Bruce Beswick

If you want kids to stay on the farm you have to make it profitable. They see how their parents sweat and worry. They see how tough it is to make ends meet. Compare that to taking their education and obtaining a pay cheque that does not depend upon the market.

Once there is actually a living to be made they will come.

Government money and loans do not cut it. That money has to be paid back. Too hard to do. Unless you are born into, or marry into an operation that actually makes money there are few that will find it attractive.

My own are gone – and the oldest told me she would never do what we have done to make the farm work. That was echoed by my youngest when I asked the question.

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Leighton Kolk

I agree that large capital requirments to enter farming can be a deterent for many youth to persue farm ownership. I also agree that through consoladation we will see less of the next generation become farmers as one farmer can manage more acres or livestock numbers.
The main challange I would agree is succesion issues. This is not somthing that should be started when a kid comes home from college or University. This needs to be started when the kid is in grade school. When youth are included in all aspects of agriculture from an early age they tend to take a greater interest and have a greater drive to want to farm as they mature. This is why things like 4H are good programs. Yet on almost every farm there is an opertunity to let them get their hands “dirty” and also have an ownership stake early on…buy a cow, feed a steer or step of an acre of land and make that a first step into buisness. It has sure worked that way for me and now my childern are doing somthing simalar and have a vested and keen interest in our operation

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