Agriculture is a $17.1 billion industry in Arizona, and it’s growing each year. This increase calls for more farmers, and it starts with young people.
In an article for the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, the Executive Director of Sustainability at George Washington University, said America needs young people to “repopulate our farm and ranch lands.” She said all our food in America could have to be imported if young people are not able to replenish our agriculture industry.
Almost two-thirds of farms in America are owned by someone over the age of 55. The most recent U.S. Census data showed that the average age of farmers in Arizona is 61 years old. In the next 5 years, which is the lifespan of the new farm bill, almost 100 million acres of land will need a new farmer.
Introducing new, young farmers into the industry could be aided by the 2018 Farm Bill. The NYFC released The National Young Farmer Survey in November, which surveyed farmers under 40 to gauge how the agriculture industry will change over the next few years.
The survey found that the agriculture industry is growing to feature more females. 60 percent of the farmers who responded to the survey were women, and the majority of the farmers surveyed did not grow up on a farm. The proportion of people of color and indigenous farmers in survey was far larger than that of the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Almost 70% of young farmers who responded have degrees beyond high school. Also, the highest number of farm sales are coming from farmers markets and community supported agriculture.
The findings of the survey helped the NYFC make the Young Farmer Agenda. This agenda will be added to the new Farm Bill. The agenda seeks to improve education and outreach for young farmers, make it easier for young people to acquire land, and decrease student loan debt of young farmers. It also focuses on conservation, racial equality, and housing for young farmers.
If Congress passes the bill with the Young Farmer Agenda attached, it could be the jumpstart America needs to preserve its agriculture industry.
To learn more about young farmers and the American agriculture industry, visit these sites: