Retirement is a quaint concept for many farmers. While some cannot afford to retire, many stay on the land because it is what they love, and also what they want to pass along to their children. Perhaps the most inspiring example of lifelong devotion to this noble craft is One Degree farmer Arnold Schmidt, who at age 86 likes to joke that “life is just now beginning to get interesting.”
Although Arnold is in many ways a remarkable outlier, he is part of a broader statistical trend in North America. “The average age of U.S. farmers has been climbing for decades and is now 58,” reports the Associated Press. “A large concern is that the number of farmers past typical retirement age is growing faster than those under age 35, meaning the pipeline could be emptying faster than it’s filling up.”
The AP noticed another trend: For those young people who do become farmers, many are motivated by such core values as sustainability and environmental consciousness. And they also tend to be more likely to embrace organic methods. “Organic farmers tend to be younger — 53 years old in the latest agricultural census,” says the AP.
“‘They tend to be very interested in local, they tend to be very interested in organic as the future path they want to travel on,’ said Kathleen Merrigan, who traveled extensively when she was deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. ‘They tend to be college graduates, and from a whole lot of different disciplines.’
“Merrigan, who now runs the sustainability program at George Washington University, said while there are many young people who want to get into farming, the hard part for many of them is being able to stay in business, given steep costs of land and equipment.
“Organic farms can actually provide a quicker route to profits because farmers can fetch higher prices. Premiums paid to organic farmers can range 29 to 32 percent above conventional prices, according to a study published this summer by Washington State University researchers. That means an organic farmer can make a living on fewer acres. …
“The back-to-the-land philosophy of organic agriculture also fits in with millennials’ well-documented interest in healthy food.”
As farmer Nate Lewis, 32, told the AP: “I think there’s an element of it being hip and cool … and it’s an alternative. So it’s not run of the mill. It’s about the earth.” And 25-year-old farmer Leanna Mulvihill noted: “You’re not going into farming when you’re a young person now if you’re not idealistic.”
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