Young farmers still optimistic despite myriad challenges

Land availability, farm facilities and overall profitability remain the top challenges of America?s young farmers and ranchers. However, they also believe they are better off today than five years ago, and they are more optimistic about the future of farming.

Today?s young farmers and ranchers are caught up in one of the most complicated dilemmas of their lives. They know where they want to go, what they want to do and where they want to be, but getting there can be difficult.

These young producers have the intelligence, energy, lineage and dedication necessary to be successful on the land, but everywhere they turn, challenges stand in their way. Compared to them, Don Quixote tilted at few windmills indeed.

They need capital to operate their businesses, buy land and support their families, yet few young producers have enough money. Rising health insurance, doctor costs and rising prescription costs are other challenges facing young producers with new families.

Furthermore, many of these couples are forced to both take jobs off the farm, and one of the considerations when looking for those jobs is if they provide health insurance.

Unfortunately, more and more companies are either paying only part of the premium or not paying any at all and only offer insurance through a group coverage that the company can get. These options still leave a good part of the burden on the shoulders of the young couple that is struggling to make a living.

Weather, including continuing drought, crop destroying storms and, God forbid, too much rain are challenges all farmers face year in and year out. Dealing with what Mother Nature dishes out is not only a daily risk but one a young producer cannot control.

During the next 15 to 20 years, thousands of acres of agricultural land will be distributed to the next generation of farmers and ranchers. It is extremely important young producers and their parents develop a good plan for this transition.

Fifth-generation farmer Cameron Peirce, Reno County, is following in his family?s footsteps. As a young farmer he?s worked to keep farming a family tradition. He?s incorporated the personal integrity and lessons learned from earlier farming practices and careful management into his own operation.

While past generations of the Peirce family farmed conventionally, 12 years ago the Reno County farmer ventured into the world of no till. Throughout the last seven years he?s gone 100-percent no till.

Along with timely marketing, another key to success on today?s farm is purchasing agricultural inputs when prices are lower or companies offer discounts. Cameron usually buys seed, fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides six months in advance.

Higher commodities have been a real boon to the family operation during the last year. Cameron hopes commodities stay in the same range or move higher. He says producers need such prices with the high cost of inputs.

One aspect of farming that has changed since his grandfather farmed is the amount of capital needed. Another is the ever increasing number of acres necessary to farm.

?My grandfather farmed 640 acres in 1949,? Cameron says. ?Today, we farm three times that amount.?

This trend has meant fewer and fewer small farms and fewer people farming the land. No doubt it will continue. While young farmers and ranchers will face many challenges in the future, they remain optimistic about their future in agriculture.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.

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