Young Farmers Share about the Future of America’s Farms
As the average age of farmers in the U.S. continues to rise, America’s farms are turning gray. Demographics published by the Environmental Protection Agency state about 40 percent of the farmers in America are 55 years and older (1). Along with that, other reports note a 20 percent drop in farmers under the age of 25. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has expressed concern about the issue (2).
Despite the statistics, the future of farming has bright spots, and the National Peanut Board spoke with three young peanut growers about their roles in agriculture today and their views about the future of farming in America.
Daniel Parrish is a 31-year-old farmer from Tchula, Miss. Like many young farmers these days, Parrish didn’t plan on a future in farming. He earned a degree from Mississippi State in engineering with dreams and aspirations to work in the automobile industry.
“I worked in the automotive industry for a few years and found out that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So in 2008 I came back to farming,” said Parrish. Parrish now runs his third-generation family farm where they grow peanuts, cotton, corn and soybeans.
To keep up to date and remain relevant in the agriculture industry, Parrish stays involved within his local community, including serving on the board of the Mississippi Peanut Growers Association and attending state agricultural meetings.
In addition to community involvement, Parrish sees the importance of remaining innovative on his farm. Currently he is testing several new technologies such as auto-steer GPS systems and zone sampling.
“Farmers are still going to have to provide food in the future for the world,” said Parrish. “If new people don’t get involved in farming it has to be passed on through the kids of families who are in agriculture today. As the current generation of farmers gets older we need new people to step up to produce food for the country.”
Today there is a great need for young farmers in the peanut industry to step up and take over their family’s farm business or for new people to enter farming. In a February 2012 article from Reuters, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed his goal of creating 100,000 new farmers in the next few years (3). The Department of Agriculture has rolled out an action plan to recruit and encourage young people to join the industry.
Like Parrish, Antron Williams, a 29-year-old farmer from Rowesville, S.C., went away to school at Clemson University and returned home to take over his sixth-generation family farm after receiving a degree in agricultural business and management. Williams currently grows runner peanuts, corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat.
Williams is actively involved in several agricultural organizations, including the National Peanut Board’s Diversity Advisory Council. “I go to all of the industry meetings I can and stay involved in agriculture organizations. I read a lot of books, magazines and watch a lot of agriculture programs on TV,” said Williams.
When asked what he loved most about farming and why he thinks more young people should get involved in the industry, Williams said, “I love being able to see the fruits of my labor grow and develop all year long. The average age of a farmer is around the age of 57 in this country, so we need young people to get involved in farming. It’s a great industry to be in if they can handle the stress and the ups and downs. You have freedom to set your own schedule, and it’s a great way of life.”
Like Williams and Parrish, Weger also sees the importance of young people getting involved in farming. Instead of going away to school, Casey Weger, a 28-year-old farmer from Hendrix, Okla., had an interest in farming at a young age. Weger began farming right out of high school.
“I think it is very important for young people like me to be involved in farming. Agriculture feeds the world, and there will always be a demand for food. I hope that there will be more young people who will want to stay involved in agriculture,” said Weger.
With more and more farmers expected to retire in the next 10 years, today’s growers like Williams, Parrish and Weger are inspiring the next generation to sustain the future of family farms in America.