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graying on the prairie

Posted: November 22 2010

some commentary the aging farmer population in AgWeek.

Graying on the prairie
By Jonathan Knutson
NIAGARA, N.D. — By Nelson County, N.D., standards, Niagara farmer Mike Kelly is still a young buck.
By regional and national standards, he’s neither young nor old.
He’s 56.
“Yeah, there are a lot of farmers my age and older,” he says with a wry smile.
Indeed there are.
The average age of Nelson County farmers is 61.4, according to the U.S. Department’s 2007 Census of Agriculture, which was released in early 2009.
That’s the highest average age for farmers in any county in the region. It’s also a hefty increase from Nelson County farmers’ average age of 59 in 2002.
What’s happening in Nelson County holds true, to a slightly smaller degree, across the country and region.
America’s farmers and ranchers — already old in comparison with the overall U.S. labor force — are aging at a worrisome rate.
The estimated average age of the American labor force in general is about 41. In contrast, the average age of U.S. farmers in 2007 was 57.1, up from 55.3 in 2002.
So on average, an American farmer is about 16 years older than an American worker in general.Keep in mind that the 2007 census may be a bit outdated, at least regionally.
Area farmers generally enjoyed good profits the past few years, which has encouraged some young adults to begin farming since the census was conducted, says Robert Carlson, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union.
“My sense is that there’s been an uptick,” he says. “I guess we’ll find out when the next census is conducted” in 2012.
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