Sunday, February 23, 2014

Who Will Farm?

"OTTAWA - A report released by Statistics Canada says the number of farms in Canada is dropping, while their size is growing along with the age of the people running them.

The agency, which looked at the makeup of the industry based on data from the 2011 agricultural census, says there were 205,730 farms in 2011 — a decline of more than 74,000 since 1991.
Its report released Tuesday also says the average farm area increased from 80 hectares to 315 hectares.

Report author and agriculture analyst Martin Beaulieu said one reason for larger farms is that they are being consolidated as older operators retire.

"Unless there's (a) big reverse in terms of the younger farmers going into agriculture, these trends are more than likely to continue," Beaulieu said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

The report, entitled "Canadian Agriculture at a Glance," says the number of farm operators fell from 390,875 to 293,925 — a 24.8 per cent drop between 1991 and 2011.

Over the same period, the average age of farmers increased from 47.5 to 54 years. The data shows more than half of all farms in 2011 had operators over the age of 55 — up from less than 38 per cent in 1991.

There were also fewer farmers under the age of 40. Statistics Canada said less than one out of 10 farms were run by someone under 40, whereas two decades earlier it was about one in four."

Our group to Hawaii had two farm couples who had no children to take over their farm operation.

This data is similar most everywhere, especially in the United States.  It takes so much money to start farming.  Many sons and daughters of established farmers don't want to or can't make a go in farming.

Knowing the children in this picture, I doubt any of them will farm.

Who will farm?

Ed Winkle


  1. Corporations and their hirelings. Not necessarily domestic.

  2. 54 years in Canada, 58.3 in the U.S., by next census we'll need to enlist zombies to farm the land, that's "who will farm!" Are there any studies about the increasing entry price for young farmers? The increasing price of farmland seems to be the main problem increasing the average age of farmers, as I understand many ag universities have record numbers of students, so the demand is there. I read that the 2014 Farm Bill has some measures to help, not sure how comprehensive or effective this will be to revert the trend.

    With global warming, there's also the question of "what will we farm". Wes Jackson had an interesting TED Talk video last year about his "thing", perennial grain. It contradicts his position against monoculture, but it's still interesting to see what other people are working in this area of future farming:

    Technology like drones, genetic engineering, robots in the dairies and soon weeding the fields asks another question: How will we farm. Farmland acreage barely maintained its 2007 level in the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, but with increased population comes increased urbanization, so we can expect farmland acreage to get down a bit, or a lot, as some states already experienced. "Where will we farm" won't change much compared to today, but it adds to another challenge, as we don't just need to increase yield to feed the increasing population, we need to do it in a context of reduced acreage. Some farmland that had been conquered over the desert on the West Coast had to be abandoned because of water availability (I think a lot of irrigation water came from the Colorado river) even before the current California drought. This also will be a problem we need to tackle in the future.

    The trends in animal farming will continue, the "good food" movement or whatever it's called will also keep influencing what and how we farm. In short, lots of challenges for future farmers!

  3. I can think of a lot of older farmers who seemed to live longer just because they did what they loved and that was farming. There was a rash of younger farmers who entered in the 70's and many of them did not survive the economic conditions but the older farmers did.

    There will always be opportunity but it's one of the toughest businesses to get started in. Teaching was much easier to enter in 1971 but neither profession is for everybody!

  4. I met him in a hospital about a year ago
    And why I still remember him I guess I'll never know
    He'd lie there and cry out in a medicated fog,
    "Here I am in this dang bed and who's gonna feed them hogs?"

    "Four hundred hogs, they just standin' out there
    My wife can't feed 'em and my neighbors don't care
    They can't get out and roam around like my old huntin' dogs
    Here I am in this dang bed and who's gonna feed them hogs?"

    His face was lean and his hands were rough
    His way was hogs and his nature was tough
    His doctors tried to tell him that he may not live at all
    But all he ever talked about was who's gonna feed them hogs

    "Four hundred hogs, they just standin' out there
    My wife can't feed 'em and my neighbors don't care
    They can't get out and roam around like my old huntin' dogs
    Here I am in this dang bed and who's gonna feed them hogs?"

    Four hundred hogs comes to eight hundred hams
    And that's a lot of money for a hog-raisin' man
    Four hundred hogs comes to sixteen hundred feet
    The market's up and there are people a-waitin' on that meat

    Well, the doctors say they do not know what saved the man from death
    But in a few days he put on his overalls and he left
    That's all there is to this small song but waitress, before you leave,
    Would you bring me some coffee and a hot ham sandwich, please?

    Four hundred hogs they're just standing out there
    His wife couldn't feed 'em and his neighbors didn't care
    They couldn't get out and roam around like his old huntin' dogs...
    [fades out]

    Tom T Hall ment that to be a silly ole song but it can bring tears to your eyes when you think of the cold hard truth behind it.

  5. It is not of course as simple as it seems. I've observed that a lot of the older farmers do not ever want to stop and they do not want to give young farmers a chance.
    But then again, some of the young farmers I've observed are out to get all they can get and are happy to run on borrowed money and leased ground and a computer spreadsheet and bid land to outrageous prices.
    There are many many reasons why there are fewer farmers. Insane regulations and hard work is another reason.
    I try to help the nice ones and I avoid the nasty ones.
    I don't really have an answer. There is no new frontier opening up.
    There are some opportunities in the small farm movement and the local and sustainable people. It is pretty hard work if you go small-scale and you do almost everything by hand.

  6. Great points, all. New frontiers? I wonder what the next new frontier for agriculture is? There are so many scientific possibilities but so little land to produce it on.

    Interesting points brought up!


  7. I just added another link to opinions on the subject from NewAgTalk.

    It gives another view on the situation.