American Farmers are Aging, According to USDA Census
Last updated 1/4/2024 at 10:16pm | View PDF
Today, you are more likely to meet a farmer over the age of 65 than under the age of 44. Most farmers have been in the industry for more than a decade, and over 60% of them work another job in addition to farming.
Farmers are the oldest workforce in the country. According to the last USDA Census of Agriculture, the median age of a farmer is 57.5 years. This is more than two years older than any other job.
For generations, farming was considered a family calling, but today one-third of farmers and ranchers are over 65, and their children are less likely to continue the tradition.
From growing food and medicine to raw material for clothing and textiles, farming is vital. Today two million farms are spread across rural America, a loss of 200,000 since 2007. Similarly, farmland has been declining.
Since 2002, the United States lost more than 40 million acres of farmland, fertile ground that has been repurposed for commercial buildings, housing and other purposes. In addition, a relatively new phenomenon is taking the farming industry by storm: foreign adversaries strategically targeting the nation's fertile farm ground.
Family farmers are left struggling just to survive as they face this along with everyday economic stressors and evergrowing industry overregulation. These factors drive the next generation away from farming entirely.
The aging of farmers on top of regulatory, economic and foreign pressures puts the future of the nation and world's food supply in peril. It is estimated that the global population will increase by over two billion by 2050, meaning farmers will need to produce 70% more food to meet demand.
In 2021, America's farms contributed $164.7 billion to gross domestic product. Farms directly employ 2.6 million people and open the door to nearly 10 times this number of jobs in other agricultural and food-related sectors.
Demand for agricultural products and farmers is expected to grow over the next decade. It is estimated that there will be 85,600 openings for farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers by 2031.
Despite this demand, operators of small farms are expected to continue to exit the sector and the next generation is not filling the gap. Among the many factors contributing to this are reduced earning potential due to inflation and increased input costs, access to healthcare, a lack of pathways into the sector, and punitive laws that make transferring the family farm to the next generation difficult.
Most farms operate akin to small businesses and are often family enterprises. The demands of tending the land, marketing and selling a crop, purchasing inputs for the next season, and maintaining equipment require time and skill that typically result in at least two members of the family needing to be on the farm full-time during the planting and harvesting seasons.
While the median annual wage for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers is estimated to be $75,760, incomes vary each year due to fluctuations in product prices and input costs.
Also, historic inflation has ravaged the economy. Farmers and ranchers have felt this through soaring input costs: seed costs, labor, insurance, taxes, land values, cash rents, fertilizer, fuel, chemical, animal feed, machinery and interest expenses.
This article was excerpted from a report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Aging, without the political comments. To read the full report, visit https://shor turl.at/himt5