Walking up and down your local grocery store aisles, it’s hard to believe there is a growing crisis that threatens food security in the United States.
But the statistics paint a grim picture.
The latest U.S. Census of Agriculture reported that there is a 23 percent decline in new farmers and that the average age of farmers has increased to an all-time high of 58.3 years old.
And even more distressing is that 33 percent of all U.S. farmers are 65 or older.
That trend partly prompted the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to project that “employment of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers is projected to decline 19 percent from 2012 to 2022.”
The report goes on to say: “ As land, machinery, seed, and chemicals become more expensive, only well-capitalized farmers and corporations will be able to buy many of the farms that become available.”
Clearly, current federal and state agricultural policies haven’t been as effective as lawmakers would have hoped.
So who is going to farm all those U.S. acres in the not-too-distant future to meet the needs of a world population the United Nations expects to swell to about 9 billion people by 2050?
One growing trend few are talking about is that foreign investment groups are increasingly buying U.S. farmland from the aging farmer population.
Meanwhile, big agriculture over the last few decades has done all it can to keep the aging population of grey haired farmers in their tractors. Those efforts include bigger equipment, auto guide GPS systems and biotechnology.
While improving efficiency makes it easier to farm, it has literally come with a cost – one that means beginning farmers need to be well-heeled to go into business.
It’s a vicious circle without clear-cut solutions.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.