Allow me to ramble a bit and form some thoughts as I type. Sometimes we observe things out a pick-up window or off a tractor seat. We know they are true right here, but it’s hard to project those observations beyond our specific experience.
In this case, I’ve observed the many small farms in our area who have struggled, survived, raised a good family, and now are at retirement age. Their children compared the rewards of the farm with the rewards in town, or just as likely the inability of their parent’s farm to support a second generation. Now that their parents are at retirement age—or probably just can’t do it anymore age—even though the farm could give them a good life, they have made this other life that doesn’t warrant a career change.
Another really common scenario is that dad never quit, worked until the hearse took him off the farm, and mom is left with leases and taxes and an attic full of precious accumulation, precious mostly to her. The old saying is: “Farmers live poor and die rich.” His wealth is in his children and the land.
So, before we take this too far and get all mushy, here’s what triggered this thought process. We all know that the average American farmer is in his 60’s; that’s been lamented for a bit. But here’s the big deal that’s happening all around me, and everything I’ve read says it’s happening coast to coast. 50% of American farmland will change hands in the next 15 years, think of that.
That means the average remaining farm will double in size in 15 years. What it really means is the best farms—which are already huge—are going to quadruple in a decade and a half. When this happens, it will be the largest (% wise) peace-time transfer of property in the history of the world.
Now I’m not saying this is wrong. That retiring farmer deserves top dollar for his farm, and only the best managed, vertically integrated farms are able to pay it. So what ARE you saying, Uncle Vern? Isn’t this the way of the world? Less people do more; progress…
The amount of farmer’s footprints per acre is certainly decreasing which decreases agricultural integrity. Rural communities become bedroom communities, rural economies constrict…
But also, I believe our society loses orientation, or put another way, without men and women earning their living from the ground, we lose our common grounding, our common sense, and start running around echoing the 24/7 news cycle that the sky is falling, we must tell the King!
There is another possibility that could work, but it’s a long-shot; every crisis contains an opportunity. What if a young person, passionately attracted to a positive career in farming approached a successful retiring farmer with the proposition of: “I want to farm and maintain the legacy of your farm. I’ll start-out renting, but I want to end-up owning it by buying it from your kids over time. Teach me what you know and let me prove I’m a worthy successor.”
I’ll just betcha there are more than a few successful farmers who would take that offer at least as a trial, and a lot of young people looking at the opportunities out here versus what’s going on in town who would make the offer of “I will sweat for opportunity.” We are definitely at a crossroads.