About half the students in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at MU have a similar background story: we hail from small towns or family farms that filled our childhoods with responsibility and adventure. When I started college, returning home to be a part of the farm was not on my mind. However, my time spent at Mizzou has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities that come with going back to the farm. Being a part of the operation now has a different meaning to me, and the idea is gaining my interest. We are the generation of innovation, so why not take the risk? Unfortunately, for most of us, returning to that family farm for the long-term is not a part of our future plans.
Growing up, I was fortunate enough to live right beside my uncle’s farm. Passed down through generations, the farm has brought my family together and provided countless memories. Endless tractor rides, playing in grain carts and feeding cattle were treats that I desperately loved. I never imagined living anywhere else. But as most children find out, growing up comes with changes in plans. When we go to college, returning to the farm sometimes seems like a crazy idea. There are so many options available, why should we pick something we’ve already been doing? The truth is, farming is not for everyone, and the numbers are there to prove it.
According to the USDA, the average age of a farmer is 65, with no signs of change in a more youthful direction. The 2012 census also showed some unpromising numbers for the future of young farmers. In Missouri, the number of farms with operators 25 years old and younger is 636 out of 43,788. Compared to 60 to 64 year olds who operate close to 13,400 farms, it would appear that young farmers are not returning to the job after completing school.
The decision to return or not return to a family farm is often all about economics. Students who want to make a living on their families’ farms would have to determine if it makes sense financially. Will they be able to support themselves? And most importantly, will they be able to pay off any student loans? Also, if the situation does not allow them to take over their farms, can their families afford to pay a full-time salary?
These are just a few of the questions that can determine if farming for a living is realistic right out of college. Some students get full-time jobs and make farming a part-time or seasonal commitment after graduation. While this may be the right thing to do financially, is it really good for agriculture as a whole?
The education that we receive through CAFNR is unparalleled. Our knowledge of sustainable agriculture and technological advancements should be transferred to the farm back home. Optimizing the family business is what many of us come to college to do. Why should farming be any different? As responsible agriculturalists, we need to think long and hard about how we are going to lower the average age of the American farmer in our lifetime. Returning to the farm just might make all the difference.