By Jeff Caldwell. (Agriculture.com) MARCH 19, 2010:
It’s no secret that the average farmer is getting up in years. As the farming population ages, the issue of farm succession is becoming a bigger concern for the younger generation making its mark on the agriculture industry, a recent poll finds.
The latest Farm and Rural Life Poll, conducted annually by Extension sociologists at Iowa State University, indicates concerns are growing surrounding the passage of farms to the next generation. In the 2008 poll, 42% of farmers responding said they were planning on retiring in the next 5 years, and among those, 56% said they had identified a successor, according to J. Gordon Arbuckle, Jr., leader of a team of ISU Extension sociologists administering the poll.
That prompted Arbuckle and others to look deeper into the trend of growing concerns around succession issues. This year’s poll included questions about family, namely children who might take over the family farm.
The poll was sent to more than 2,200 farms around Iowa. The average respondent was 64 years old and had been farming for almost 40 years.
“Seventy-three percent of respondents indicated that they had adult children over 18 and not in school. Among those farmers who had adult children, 33% had at least 1 child who was currently farming. Of those, 10% had multiple children who were farmers,” Arbuckle says. “Twenty-seven percent had at least 1 son who farmed and 11% had at least one daughter who farmed.
“The 735 farmers who were over 55 — approaching retirement age — had 350 children who farmed, a proportion (48%) that represents less than half of the number that will be needed to replace the current generation of farmers as they retire,” he adds.
Of those saying the younger generation planned to take the reins of the farm, reasons like quality of life and love of farming topped the list of motivations.
“Following in importance were quality of life considerations and having grown up wanting to farm. Seventy-two percent of farmers rated these factors as having been important or very important criteria in their childrens decisions to farm,” Arbuckle says. “Ability to be their own boss (68%), desire to stay close to home (56%), desire to carry on family tradition (55%), and family ability to help get them started (55%) were also rated as important or very important by a majority of Farm Poll participants.”
Why are members of the next generation planning on other careers instead of returning to the farm? Arbuckle says income opportunities elsewhere comprised the top motivator, while industry entrance hurdles like input costs, high land rents and excessive overall financial risk topped the list of drivers toward other careers.
“In contrast to the factors influencing the decision to farm, most of the reasons that were rated as most important in the choice of a non-farm career were economic,” Arbuckle says.
“On the whole, results suggest that for those individuals who chose farming as their career, cultural and lifestyle factors were the predominant reasons underlying that choice. Whether regarding their own decisions to farm, or their children”s decisions, love of farming and quality of life issues were fundamental,” he continues. “On the other hand, for those children who did not choose to farm, parents’ assessments clearly point to economic factors as the most important decision criteria, whether in the form of economic barriers to farm entry or better income opportunities elsewhere.”
The poll’s results, Arbuckle says, underscore the growing need for policy initiatives that can help the next generation get a foothold in the ag industry. In fact, last year’s poll included specific mentions of current programs for young and beginning farmers. Of those mentioned, 80% responding to the poll said targeted loan programs should be expanded, while 77% said mentoring programs to connect beginning farmers to those more established in the industry should grow.
“Overall, these results point to overwhelming support for a broad array of beginning farmer programs,” Arbuckle adds.
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