Lack of land and government regs top young farmer concerns

farm-droughtA lack of available farmland is the top issue concerning young farmers in America today, according to a recent survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Almost 30 percent of participants in an annual AFBF survey said the challenge of finding adequate land on which to grow crops and raise animals was once again the top challenge for young farmers and ranchers.

“I’d agree with that,” said Grant Coffee, chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau FederationYoung Farmers Committee and a tobacco and small grains farmer in Lunenburg County. “Young farmers need land to farm, but much of the farmland is already owned by others.”

Coffee farms with his father, but there’s not enough land for both of them to make a living farming full time. He runs a custom spray operation and trucking company and is a research specialist at the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center near Blackstone.

“For young people who want to begin farming or ranching or expand an established farm or ranch, securing adequate land remains their top challenge,” said Jon Hegeman, an Alabama farmer and chairman of the AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee. “Another major challenge is coping with burdensome government regulations.”

Coffee noted that young farmers are not the only producers affected by government regulations; all farmers are affected equally.

Other issues ranked as top concerns on the survey included the willingness of parents to turn over the reins of a farming operation, overall profitability of farms, taxes and urbanization.

Farm transition is a touchy subject, Coffee said, adding that most farmers continue to farm past conventional retirement age. “How do you tell your parents to retire? Farming is in their blood,” he said.

Despite the obstacles, the 23rd annual AFBF survey revealed that 84 percent of participants are more optimistic about farming and ranching than they were five years ago. Ninety-two percent said they are better off than they were five years ago.

The majority of those surveyed—75 percent—consider communicating with consumers a formal part of their jobs. Many use social media platforms as a tool to accomplish that, in addition to traditional outreach methods such as farm tours, agritourism and farmers’ markets.

The survey also found that America’s young farmers and ranchers continue to be committed environmental caretakers, with 58 percent analyzing the nutrient content of soil and 56 percent using conservation tillage to protect soil and reduce erosion on their farms.

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