Report: More young people becoming farmers, but path to success not easy

Report: More young people becoming farmers, but path to success not easy

A growing number of Americans are leaving their desk jobs to farm, according to a report in the Washington Post .

The most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture census figures show that from 2007 to 2012, the number of farmers aged 25 to 34 grew 2.2 percent, just the second time in the last century that the number of young farmers actually increased.

Farming, as a profession, continues to skew older, however. The average age of America’s farmers has steadily increased to 58.2 years old, compared to an average age of 50.5 back in 1980.

Lafayette County farmers Juli and Chris McGuire know what it’s like to start farming young. Now in their early 40s, they moved from Madison to the Town of Belmont, with no prior agricultural experience to start the Two Onion Farm back in 2004.

“Immediately before (farming) I was working at Epic Systems in Madison,” Chris McGuire said.

The couple said they wanted to leave the hustle and bustle and build a closer connection to the land.

“Growing the food that we put on the table is a really wonderful feeling,” Juli McGuire said.

There were some challenges, though. The McGuires said they didn’t know they would need additional labor to run a farm. Moving away from the city also led to a bit of a culture shock, they said.

Another challenge, they said, was getting capital.

“One of the big barriers for young people to start farming is the capital needed to buy land or equipment,” Chris McGuire said. “One of the reasons that we started growing produce is that we’re able to make a living on a fairly small amount of land.”

According to the National Young Farmers Coalition , access to land, student loan debt, finding labor and finding health insurance are the biggest barriers to young people hoping to start their own farms.

Chris McGuire said any young person interested in starting their own farm should work on one first to get a feel for whether they’re agriculturally-inclined.

“If you want to own a farm and make a living off of it, you should have some experience working for someone else,” he said.

Numbers show the increase in young farmers isn’t coming close to stopping the mass exodus of older farmers leaving farming behind, however.

According to the USDA, while the industry gained nearly 2,500 farmers between the ages 25 and 34, it lost nearly 100,000 between the ages 45 and 54 from 2007 to 2012.