To be fair, we did find some local differences. For example, in New York County – better known as Manhattan – the average farmer is just north of 31. Next door in Hudson County, New Jersey, the average farmer is more than 72.
On the whole, though, America’s farming workforce is getting older. If the country doesn’t recruit new farmers or adapt to having fewer, older ones, it could put the nation’s food supply at risk. Before panicking, though, it’s worth asking: Why is this happening?
A tough field to break into
To start, there are real barriers to entry for young people – at least those who weren’t born into multigenerational farming families. It takes money to buy the land, equipment and other stuff you need to run a farm, and younger people have less wealth than older ones.
In addition to understanding why fewer younger people want to go into agriculture, it’s important to consider aging farmers’ needs. Without younger people to leave the work to, farmers are left with intense labor — physically and mentally – to accomplish, on top of the ordinary challenges of aging.
In other words, the U.S. needs to increase opportunities for younger farmers while also supporting farmers as they age.
Also in 2024, the USDA will release its next Census of Agriculture, giving researchers new insight into America’s farming workforce. We expect it will show that the average age of U.S. farmers has reached a new all-time high.
If you believe otherwise – well, we wouldn’t bet the farm.
David R. Buys receives funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Health Resources and Services Administration, and the National Institutes of Health.
As Director of the Southern Rural Development Center, one of the nation's four Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) focused on enhancing capacity in research and Extension among Land-Grant Universities, John J. Green is involved in projects funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Relevant to this topic are base funding support for RRDCs and the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative Competitive Program grant 2021-67023-34425 and his participation in the Rural Population Research Network (W5001). He also receives support as part of the Interdisciplinary Network on Rural Population Health and Aging funded by the National Institute on Aging grant R24-AG065159. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of these funders.
As an Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Science at Mississippi State University, Mary Nelson Robertson is involved in projects supported by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Rural Health and Safety Education Grant No. 2020-46100-32841, Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Rural Opioids Technical Assistance (ROTA) Grant No. 5H79TI083275-02, and USDA NIFA Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN): Southern Region Grant No. 2020-70028-32730 from the University of Tennessee Extension Service, and USDA NIFA FRSAN: State Department of Agriculture Grant No. 2021-70035-35566 from Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce.