Fresh and Local – Farm succession: Where have all the children gone? In Wisconsin, back to the farm!
Our population is getting old, and the baby boomers are getting ready to retire. The same is happening with our farmers; what happens when the folks who grow our food decide to retire and not farm anymore? Will the kids take over? Will the land be sold off? We need that land for agriculture, so who gets it and for what purpose is a real concern if maintaining a safe and plentiful food supply, providing green space and rural landscapes and fostering rural communities and economies is important!
The USDA Agricultural Census service has been tracking the “graying” population of farmers, and the fastest growing group is over 65. This trend has been occurring for some time, as fewer and fewer young people have been returning to the farm, and between 2002 and 2007 alone, the number of farmers over 65 grew by nearly 22 percent. The USDA analysis states that, “for every one farmer and rancher under the age of 25, there are five who are 75 or older!”
The key to maintaining these lands in agricultural production is farm succession planning and programs that help farmers develop these plans that enable a smooth transition to a younger generation of farm managers. Here in Wisconsin, our farmers are bucking the national trend as usual, and we can proudly say that we are in the top 5 US states with the youngest age of head farm operators. Why is this? Is it quality of life, or a state philosophy that engenders good planning? Either way, it is a positive sign for our rural communities, the long-term beauty of agricultural landscapes and the plentiful food supply that we rely on.