I consider my days in the sun as a young, organic farmer to be the most rewarding work I’ve done. But for young people like me, becoming a full-time farmer is nearly an impossible dream.
According to the USDA, the median age for agricultural producers increased from 56.3 to 57.5 years old between 2012 and 2017—making farmers among the oldest workforces in America. People 35 or younger account for only 9% of the country’s farm producers.
Why are so few young people going into farming? The 2022 National Young Farmers Survey names access to land, funding, health care and the cost of production as the top challenges.
The average net income for family farms in 2023 is expected to be less than $40,000, lower in real terms than a decade ago.
Meanwhile, the costs of agricultural land and machinery have skyrocketed. Even a second-hand John Deere combine can easily run more than $750,000. The average price per acre of cropland reached $5,050 in 2022, nearly double the 2009 rate, according to USDA.
The federal government spends billions every year on farm subsidies, but most of the money goes to the largest and wealthiest operators. And because of systemic racism, Black and Indigenous farmers have faced particular difficulty in accessing these funds.
In 2021, Congress set aside $4 billion in loan forgiveness for minority farmers to address the long history of discrimination against Black farmers. But the courts blocked the program, claiming it would be unfair to white farmers.
If we’re serious about cultivating the next crop of young farmers in America, we need to do much more to clear the roadblocks stopping young farmers from taking their place in the agricultural workforce.
I want other young people to have the opportunity to share in the experience of cultivating the earth, connecting with nature and understanding the true value of sustainable food production.
Danielle Browne is a next leader at the Institute for Policy Studies.