In a recent survey published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), officials reported that more than one-third of U.S. farmers are 65 years old or older, and half of current farmers plan to retire in the next decade. With fewer young people staying home to take over their family farms, the average age of American farmers is increasing rapidly. Kevin Moore, an associate professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, teaches “Returning to the Farm,” a class that prepares students to overcome the financial and personality hurdles of becoming a farmer.
“Many young kids see the farming lifestyle as boring, rural and unattractive, and an increasing number of college graduates are attracted to what they see as more stimulating and lucrative careers and urban life,” Moore said. “The purpose of the Returning to the Farm class is to teach students the skills that they will need to overcome the financial and societal pressures they face when going back to the family farm or starting their own farms.”
The Returning to the Farm class prepares students for life after college in three ways:
- Weekly classroom sessions focus on financial planning and helping students determine the feasibility of farming and reaching financial goals;
- Weekend workshops feature farmers and professionals from all generations who cover various topics such as estate planning, business organization and tax management;
- Lessons that help students create business plans allowing them to return to their family farms.
Moore believes that although costs are high for a farm, students can prepare for future challenges.
“College graduates already have debt from student loans, so getting a loan to start a farm from a bank can be tough,” Moore said. “However, if students are prepared to face the first five years of business, they can be successful in the farming industry. The Returning to the Farm class helps them prepare for these situations.”
Moore believes that the large number of retiring farmers could pose a significant problem to the U.S. agriculture industry, considering that only 5% of principal farm operators nationwide are under the age of 35. One issue Moore has observed is that parents are not talking to their children about their expectations.
“All too often, assumptions are made about the next generation coming back to the farm,” Moore said. “This leaves a lot of planning and decisions for later, during crunch time when kids have already made decisions about the direction of their lives. If younger adults are going to continue to choose not to go into the farming industry, then we may run into a problem, within the next decade or two, due to the lack of farmers in the U.S.”
Returning to the Farm is an undergraduate course taught in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at MU. During the past two decades, more than 150 students have completed the program.