from Elisha Greeley Smith, Center for Rural Affairs
Farmers are working longer than ever. According to the 2002 Agriculture Census, the average age of farmers is 55, and one in four is 65 or older. As older farmers leave the land and the price of farms continues to skyrocket, it’s increasingly difficult for a new crop of farmers to set roots and grow.
Farmers under the age 35 are fast becoming endangered species. The decline in young farmers over the preceding 15 years has been the most dramatic of the last century. Beginning farmers can succeed with encouragement, financial support, and sound planning. But the most critical ingredient is involvement of retiring farmers and ranchers with the next generation.
The Center for Rural Affair’s Land Link program serves to increase opportunities for beginning farmers while encouraging good stewardship. Computer data base matching and consulting services bring beginning farmers and landowners together. Retirement planning, beginning farmer financing, farm business, and environmental assessment information is used to assist in transferring family operations to a new generation of farmers and ranchers. The Center has helped set up many different linking arrangements between retiring and beginning farmers and ranchers.
The first of its kind in the nation, Land Link has been replicated in 20 states and in Japan, Australia, and Canada. The Center is a leader in the National Farm Transition Network, which brings all the linking programs in the nation together to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers.