The Society for Range Management reported on the demographic trends in the industry in U.S. High Plains region in its current issue of its journal, Rangelands with a sobering forecast. The group contends, within 20 years, that the state may be lacking in the number of young farmers.
Based on their results, the authors forecast a bleak farming future: no operators younger than 35 by 2033 and an average age of 60 by 2050. Even if their children and grandchildren show interest in agriculture, farmers often cannot afford to keep their land and equipment. They “retire” and sell-often to residential or commercial developers. The authors state that the trends in the region are occurring throughout the United States.
The journal, published six times a year, used statistics, maps, and graphs as well as 90 years of census and other data related to these trends. They examined how the agricultural community is aging and consider ways to inspire interest in farming and ranching.
“The United States has a rich agricultural history. Family farms once employed nearly half of the country’s work force,” the association said in a statement. “But that culture has changed; today most farms are corporate, mechanized, larger in size, and fewer in number. Only 2% of today’s workers are employed at US farms or ranches.”
The piece focused on the High Plains, specifically Wyoming, which still holds large tracts of working land. According to the results, more than half of today’s farm operators are older than 55. In all but two counties in Wyoming, farming has attracted ever fewer people 34 years and younger. Most counties have also seen drops in the 35-54 age bracket. As a result, the average age of farmers and ranchers has increased in every county in Wyoming since 1920.
Full text of the article “Wyoming’s aging agricultural landscape: Demographic trends among farm and ranch operators, 1920-2007,” Rangelands, Vol. 36, No. 6, 2014, is now available at http://www.srmjournals.org/doi/full/10.2111/Rangelands-D-14-00035.1