Multigenerational farms and ranches have been the backbone of the industry forever- but a shift in younger generations may change that.
While there are many uncertainties during these trying times, one thing is certain. Multigenerational family ranches like Mt. Lamborn Ranch and the Roeber family are the backbone of the agriculture industry. The majority of farms and ranches in the U.S. are family owned and operated, in fact over 98% of operations are family farms and ranches.
Farm and ranch families comprise less than 2% of the U.S. population and contribute 86% of all production in the agriculture industry. Families like the Roebers, run small and large scale farms which produce the majority of the nation's beef and dairy. Family operations also produce over 50% of U.S. high-value crops, fruits and vegetables and almost half of all U.S. poultry and egg production and hay.
While family farms are a major portion of the industry, the 2017 Census of Agriculture reported a rise in the average age of all producers and decrease in the number of young producers who are continuing to work in the industry. This raises a red flag considering 17% of all principal operators plan to retire in the next 5 years; and according to “America’s Diverse Family Farm: 2020 Edition”, more than 60% of those who plan to retire do not have a succession plan or have not identified a successor yet.
Although this steady generational shift continues, the future of agriculture is not bleak, younger generations are still key influencers on the industry. While one in four producers is a beginning farmer with the average age of 46, these new or beginning farmers in decision making roles are operating on smaller farms. In comparison, younger producers who are making more decisions regarding livestock and operating larger than average farms with higher than average sales.
Though there is still some uncertainty about the place of youth in agriculture, it is important to continue investing in rural youth and those involved in agriculture. Programs that encourage youth to get involved in the industry such as 4-H help shape our youth to make valuable contributions to the industry and their communities. Youth involved in 4-H are four times more likely to make any contribution to their communities and two times more likely to participate in science programs when they are not in school.
Investing in our youth is one of the best ways to invest back into the industry and the agriculture community to ensure that family farms and ranches continue to thrive for many generations to come.