The census of American agriculture, which is
taken every five years, was released last week and the results are disturbing not only to rural communities like ours, but the nation as a whole.
Figures released by the United States Department of Agriculture indicate the number of U.S. farms is declining. This didn’t happen overnight and, in fact, it follows a long-term trend in this country.
The latest census shows there is a total of 2.1 million farms, which is down approximately four percent from a previous census in 2007.
At the same time, the average age of American farmers is on the rise. The USDA records show that the average age of the American farmer stands at 58.3 years old.
A highlight of the census was an uptick in the number of farmers between 25 and 34 years old.
Seminole County Schools have first rate 4-H and FFA programs filled with award-winning young men and women. The schools’ agriculture curriculum and extra curricular projects and associations are effectively exposing these students to the advantages of farming and agriculture related professions, and perhaps, are grooming potential younger and innovative farmers to the agriculture community to take the place of older farmers.
Seminole County boasts the largest Young Farmer chapter in the entire state with membership expected to exceed 300 next year, and will be hosting the 2014 GYFA Summer tour June 20-21 where all of the Young Farmer chapters in the state will gather to tour the agricultural businesses and farm sites to see how agriculture impacts the local economy in Seminole County as well as that of our state and nation.
The local chapter and school’s commitment to educating our young people on the benefits of careers in agriculture is exemplary. What we are doing locally is working and already paying dividends, because this year local Young Farmer Greg Mims, a product of the Seminole County agriculture education experience, is serving as the President of the State Young Farmer Association.
These local programs are positive steps. Our area’s economy is dominated by agriculture and everything we can do to boost the local economy is good for all of us.
Another big plus revealed in the census is a 33 percent increase in the value of farm products sold. U.S. farms sold nearly $395 billion in farm products in 2012, the census reveals.
At a time when the value of crops and livestock has increased significantly over the last five years, farming in the U.S. is more profitable than ever before. It would seem that younger farmers would be attracted to enter one of the country’s most noble professions.
With nearly a third of all U.S. farmers being older than 65 in 2012, it makes us wonder, who will grow the crops in the future?
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Viilsack was asking the same question last week in Washington when the agriculture census was released.
The Agriculture Secretary told reporters he is most concerned with mid-sized farms. With most of our local farms falling in that category, it is the sector Seminole Countians should be most concerned about as well. Agriculture is the state’s largest industry, but we are not in the top 10 states with the most farms. Regardless of the number of farms in the state, agriculture is big business for Georgia and for Seminole County.
Seminole County is setting an outstanding example for the state and the nation on how to do it right; however, we need to do even more to promote agriculture as a viable career for our young people. Planting a seed to farm in the minds of our young people by growing and expanding agriculture education programs in our local schools and colleges is something we must do – for our future.
To be sure, farmers 65 and older cannot farm forever. Without younger farmers, it will be impossible to raise the food and fiber necessary to survive and remain the world’s economic super power.
It’s something to consider the next time your family gathers around the dinner table.
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