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Two Americas: Average age of U.S. farmers rising as younger generations leave American agriculture

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Posted at 6:50 PM, Oct 07, 2022

KANSAS CITY, Mo — Every morning like clock work, 16-year-old Ethan Estrada tends to his family farm.

Pride, responsibility and work ethic — he says the core values of American agriculture are not lost on him.

“I have a fear that one day farming, and agriculture on its own, will just disappear,” Estrada said. “It stands as a symbol of our country. It stands as a symbol of our nation.”

Estrada has seen way too many family farms break apart due to grandkids that leave the industry. He plans on carrying on the legacy of his as a way to honor those who came before him.

“It’s something that we built up, and they built up, throughout generations and generations. And then to see it torn down — that’s not something that I want to see,” Estrada said.

The appeal of American agriculture may have certainly gone down according to some like Estrada, but others say the problem goes even deeper.

Lowell Schachtsiek has been growing his family farm in Palmyra, Missouri, since 1966. He believes one for the primary reasons why young farmers leave is high land prices. The USDA reports that farmland inflation rates increased by 150 percent between 2004 and 2018.

“The land owns the farmer should the farmer own the land,” Schachtsiek said. “For one thing, probably the return for the investment is pretty, it’s pretty slim.

On top of that breaking into the industry is a hard row to hoe. Existing farmers have already monopolized much of the industry and families that wanted to pass on their farms lost them in the 80s when there was a surplus of farmers.

“If it keeps going the way it is going right now, I think you’re gonna see more and more land owned by fewer and fewer people and more land is gonna be owned by people who are not farming it,” Schachtsiek said.

To find out what is being done to recruit younger people to American agriculture, KSHB spent the day at the Missouri State Fair.

National youth clubs like 4-H and FFA have used it as a platform to recruit, cultivate and support future leaders in the industry.

“We owe so much to American agriculture. I don’t think a lot of people understand that,” said Erin Heinecke, and FFA member.

It is Heinecke’s goal to pass on the knowledge, but most importantly passion, to the next generation.

“The thing that a lot of people don’t get over, is the money situation,” Heinecke said. “It’s gonna take people that really want to work hard and love what they do.”

FFA chapters host community projects throughout the year and put student agricultural experiments on display at big state events. The hope is, aspiring farmers will see first-hand what they do and fall in love with the craft.

“I see it click in their eyes, and they really understand like ‘Wow this is what FFA does for people.’ It gives me like the warm fuzzies,” Heinecke said. “And what better way to recruit than that.”

It is a strategy Estrada has been utilizing throughout his time at 4-H as well. While younger generations are seemingly losing interest in rural traditions, he says getting them involved in the small things is the first step. The love for it will undoubtedly come.

“Thoughts and minds change just by coming in and petting the goat, petting a chicken, you know, picking them up, picking up eggs each day,” said Estrada. “It teaches you how to work, it teaches you, most importantly, how to enjoy what you already have.”