Farming as the “Next Big Industry”?
Many of the news stories about beginning farmers focus primarily on challenges: lack of access to land and capital, low wages, second jobs, and long hours. We also tend to hear about an aging farm population and a dire need to recruit young farmers.
Stacey Vanek Smith, a reporter for Marketplace (an American Public Media program) recently filed a story that bucked this trend, at least a little bit. She focused primarily on narratives of beginning farmers in the midwest in situations that appear rather propitious.
In Farming: The Next Big Industry, we first learn about 35 year-old Ben Albright in Iowa.
Excerpt: “I was a child of the 80s, so that was a pretty tough time in the industry,” Albright says. He grew up on his father’s farm in Lytton. Back then, no one wanted to go into farming. Albright went off to college. “I had a few other jobs, internships, things like that, just to see what else was out there,” he says. “But I just felt like the opportunity in farming was better than anything I could find elsewhere.”
Vanek Smith also presents an alternative to the dominant narrative of the aging farmer population. She reports that though the farming population has indeed been aging for decades, this is slated to change: “the latest census report is expected to show the average age of farmers going down for the first time in more than 30 years. Young people are going into farming because the agriculture economy has experienced a major turnaround.”
Mike Duffy, an economist at Iowa State University, explained the trends for Vanek Smith. “The period we’re in right now is unprecedented in terms of income and land values,” Duffy says. The College of Agriculture at Iowa State has seen record enrollment, and Duffy says more of his students are going back to the family farm after they graduate. As food prices have risen, so have profits for farmers.
While Vanek Smith’s report highlights opportunity in agriculture, she also acknowledges challenges for beginning farmers in access to land, capital and other resources. “That’s the thing about an economic boom: everything gets expensive.”
For the full story in print and audio, click here.