In less than 20 years, there will be no farmers or ranchers under the age of 35 left in the state of Wyoming, according to a study published in the U.S. journal Rangelands last week.
Researchers analyzed demographic trends among farm and ranch operators in the state from 1920 to 2007, and as you would expect, they found the farm population is getting older. Using census data, their models forecast there being no operators younger than 35 by 2033 and an average farmer age of 60 by 2050 (you can read the study here.) Just for context, according to the USDA National Ag Statistics Service, in 2007, there were 8,800 farms and ranches operating in Wyoming, with a total land area of 34.4 million acres and cattle accounting for over half of farm cash receipts.
While the study focused on trends in the state 600 kilometres south of the Saskatchewan border, many of the same factors are at play on Canadian farms. So do these findings have merit? Will young farmers really go extinct?
As someone whose still in that category, I’d argue it’s less of a problem than the headlines are making this out to be.
First of all, to say there will be absolutely zero farmers under the age of 35 is a tad ridiculous. Sure, the linear trend line might be headed in that direction, but you can’t realistically believe the statement — with no margin for error — that not a single person born after 1998 will be farming in Wyoming in 2033.
Secondly, and more importantly, it would be interesting to see whether the trend has continued over the last eight years, which, with some exceptions, have been some of the most prosperous years ever for North American farmers. There’s been renewed enthusiasm regarding the future of farming — just look at the rising enrolment numbers for many agriculture schools, or the investments farmers across the continent are making in the future value of land. There are still significant obstacles, but strong profit margins mean more young people are wanting to farm.
Perhaps we’re even approaching a tipping point where we could see the average age of farmers decline, with a generational transition. The number of farmers under the age of 35 might actually rise, as there will be opportunities to take over from the large number of farmers approaching retirement.
What do you think? Is it fair to say young farmers won’t exist in 2033? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.