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August 26, 2007 - Passing on the farm

For decades we have been talking about the challenge facing a young person who wants to get involved in agriculture and operate, and someday own, a farm or ranch. The assumed rule is if you are not part of a farm family or an heir to the farm, there is no way for a young person to get started in farming today.

A recent survey on why dairy farmers left the business produced one response that really troubled me. This was a survey of 333 farmers who participated earlier this year in the Herd Retirement Program of the CWT (Cooperatives Working Together). Of the total, 205 responded to the questionnaire that asked just one question, “why did you decide to sell the herd and leave dairy farming?”.

The Number One reason...59% said “because of the sharply increased cost of production”. Other answers included “wanted to retire”; “financial difficulties”; “environmental pressures” and, the one that really bothered me, 40% of those leaving dairy farming said because “there was no one that could take over the dairy farm”. Whether there were children in the family who had no interest or whether it was a couple without children or heirs ...they left the dairy business because there was no one there to take over the farm.

This brings me to something we’ve talked about before. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could establish a central meeting point to list young people who truly want to get into farming or ranching on the one hand, and then, on the other hand those farm and ranch owners who have no one to take over the farm when they leave the business. It would be ideal if we could establish a central clearing point to bring those two factions together. That way the people who are retiring and getting out of the farming business would feel good about helping a young person get started in the business and that young person would have an opportunity to fulfill a dream.

I know how satisfying that can be because during my years in Chicago, I have worked with three city high school kids who corresponded with me after watching my daily agricultural TV show and expressed a strong interest in becoming a farmer. They were hired for summer jobs by three farmers I knew who had no children, and today, more than 20 years later, two are farming for absentee landlords and one works for a farm implement dealer.

I’m not sure how we accomplish this, but I would appreciate any ideas you might have to bring these two factions together and get the job done. Let me hear from you on www.bigofarm.com.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.