The number of young farmers is trending modestly upwards, according to 2012 Ag Census released earlier this year. Young, beginning principal operators who reported their primary occupation as farming increased 11.3 percent from 36,396 to 40,499 between 2007 and 2012.
This increase in new blood is a welcome sight for a sector that has grown long in the teeth in recent years. But if we hope to continue this trend, strong farm policy is key.
Our farmers, particularly young farmers, face exceptional risks in today’s environment. In addition to the unpredictability of Mother Nature, young farmers starting out are also facing higher input costs and lower crop prices, unprecedented global subsidization, regulatory burdens, and vocal opponents determined to weaken the farm safety net.
The 2014 Farm Bill took an important step in helping beginning farmers, by making crop insurance more affordable for their risk management portfolios and by developing new insurance tools for a wide array of crops. The bill also included important policies that will help cushion the fall if commodity prices drastically drop – as many have done in 2014.
Other improvements to promote beginning farmers and ranchers include the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which funds farmer education programs. The new Farm Bill also makes credit more available for beginning farmers through a microloan program.
The fact that the number of young farmers has started trending upwards is a positive development that hasn’t been seen in a number of years. But this modest increase is not nearly large enough to offset the number of farmers rapidly approaching retirement age.
These emerging farmers and ranchers—and those considering a career in agriculture—need to know they have the tools to succeed. Certainly, these young farmers have a lot of passion and heart, but that doesn't do you a lot of good when you’re suffering from a flood, a drought, or volatile price swings for commodities on the world market.
The new Farm Bill makes not only an investment in these dedicated individuals, but a down payment on the future of this nation's food security.