Each year, the American Farm Bureau Federation surveys about 1,000 young farmers and ranchers from across the country. The 22nd annual survey found that 91 percent of young people in agriculture are more optimistic about farming than they were five years ago. An equal percentage say they expect to be lifelong farmers.
Just as promising, 88 percent say they would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. That is reason for all of us to feel hopeful, because our nation will need new crops of farmers and ranchers to keep growing food for the world.
Of course, we all lean toward a feeling of optimism when we are young and “invincible.” The possibilities seem endless; the threats, easily conquered. However, farmers, even young ones, see things a little differently. They are optimistic, but they are also pragmatic. They remain mindful of the challenges they face, such as the growing list of federal regulations that increase the cost and complexity of farming. Availability of labor, water and – especially for younger producers – land are also concerns.
Even so, farmers and ranchers of all ages and types are dedicated to continuous improvement in everything they do. This includes striving to decrease our environmental footprint – the demonstrated ability to produce more food on the same number of acres with fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.).
Our farmers have made great strides in this area, using new tools and technology to get the job done, whether that means feeding the world, caring for the land or supporting communities in rural areas.
In 2008, America’s farmers produced 262 percent more food with fewer inputs compared with 1950. U.S. farmland used for crops has declined by 70 million acres or 15 percent, since 1985. And it takes 40 percent less feed for a dairy cow to produce 100 pounds of milk today compared to 30 years ago.
It’s clear that this optimistic new generation of young family farmers is well-positioned to contribute to feeding the world while caring for the earth.