What are your plans after graduation?” That seems to be the most commonly asked question of seniors graduating high school. In my case, the question was should I stay home and help with the farm, or should I go to college and chase my goals and dreams?
My dad always told me to leave my tiny town that I called home. Coming back to the farm and working for my grandpa was the life plan he had mapped out for himself, but he didn’t want the same for me. Even though I knew I had the option to stay, I was always encouraged to go to college, get a good education, follow my dreams and make something of myself. .
So, here I am at MU studying agricultural journalism, but I constantly think about who is going to take over the farm after my grandpa and dad are too old to do it on their own. Did I make the wrong decision? Should I have stayed?
The USDA Census states that the number of principal operators who had been on their farms for fewer than 10 years dropped by nearly 20 percent between 2007 and 2012, and the number of farmers who had been on their farms for a decade or more grew by nearly 1.2 percent.
Farmers are dedicated, hardworking and purpose-driven. They are among America’s oldest workers. The average age of a farmer also has been increasing rapidly for the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture going from 50.5 years to 58.3 years in the past eight years.
Children are leaving family farms at a much earlier age to chase their dreams and goals and to explore the world. Even though we need our children to take over the family “business,” we also need our children to grow up and find a cure for cancer.
Keeping family farms together is even more important in today’s society because of barriers that make it difficult for individuals to start farming on their own. Land prices have skyrocketed in the past years and some equipment, like tractors and combines, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. If one is involved in a family farm, the land is already provided, the equipment is already there and running, you just have to make the choice to stay.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States defines family farming as, “a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production, which is managed and operated by a family and predominantly reliant on family labor, including both women’s and men’s.”
Of the 2.1 million farms in the United States, 97 percent are family-owned operations. And of those 2.1 million farms 88 percent are small family farms. Fifty-eight percent of all direct farm sales to consumers come from small family farms. Sixty-four percent of all vegetable sales and 66 percent of all dairy sales come from the three percent of farms that are large or very large family farms.
A family farm is more than just a definition on paper. Traditions, agriculture, faith, family and a lot of love are at the root of every family-operated farm. Being a part of a family farm means more than one might realize. Being out in the field with my dad during harvest season or bringing my uncles, grandpa and dad lunch and dinner out to the farm with my grandma are moments that I cherish.
My own family depends on each other to get the job done, and the world does, as well. Family farms and commercial farms are working towards the same ultimate goal: feeding America’s population. With the population growing, we need all the help we can get.
Some are choosing to leave it behind. They go off to college and into careers not related to agriculture. Others still want to be involved in the agriculture industry, but just not in the production sector.
We still need people to come back to the farm and do the work that our ancestors did to pave the way for our future generations. Feeding the world is a farmer’s job and priority. Family farming is the predominant form of agriculture in the food production sector. In order to hold that position, we need family farming to continue to be a part of production agriculture.