Do you want to be a farmer? Do you want to work long hours consisting of mostly manual labor, under the hot sun, surrounded by dirt and manure? You may be thinking, why I would want to do that when I can get a profession that pays much better in the city, right? Wrong! While, to the youth of the world, agricultural work and farming may seem like a lesser profession, it is an essential supporting facet of life around the world that is becoming increasingly overlooked.
Currently, there are 7.4 billion people living on Earth who all have to eat. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, an average of 12.9% of the population of underdeveloped countries in the world is malnourished. The importance of farmers and agricultural workers is often understated, and is becoming an even greater problem as time passes. Many of the problems faced with feeding this ever-growing population arise from the shortage of agricultural workers entering the workforce globally.
Nationally, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) estimates that, “57,900 jobs will open every year from 2015 to 2020,” yet it is expected that “39% of these jobs will go unfilled.” This shocking statistic shows that people are less interested in this industry, but also solidifies the point that there is a consistent flow of job opportunities available for agricultural workers. Moreover, the average age of principle farm workers has been rising throughout recent years. The 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture shows the average age has increased by 7.8 Years since 1982 from the average age of 50.5 to 58.3 years old.
The primary question that arises from this is what is deterring the younger generations from entering this field. The USDA acknowledges the need for hundreds if not thousands of new and beginning farmers, but current policies are simply not enough to provide support to this essential demographic. Another diagram shows how the number of new farmers has been decreasing over the years.
According to the National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) the major obstacles for beginning farmers consist of “capital, land, and healthcare.” Many young farmers do not have access to sufficient capital to start up and get going. Additionally, it is even more troublesome to find affordable land for purchase or to find a landowner willing to make a long-term lease agreement. Lastly, it is essential for a farmer whose livelihood depends on physical labor to have the necessary access to healthcare to ensure he can continue working.
I wanted to get into touch with local farmers around New Mexico and gather their thoughts on the barriers young farmers face and what they feel would make the biggest difference to help the local youth cross these barriers. I planned phone interviews with a couple local farmers from around New Mexico and gathered their thoughts on this topic.
The first farmer I interviewed was one of my long time friends, Keegan Fisher-Ives. He is a student at the University of New Mexico, 21 years old, and has a major interest within the field of farming. While he doesn’t have a large farming practice, he mentioned that he could see himself trying to attain this goal at some point in his life. He currently has a fairly large coop of eight backyard chickens. He also has a small planter where he grows a variety of produce for him and his roommates. I was interested in the biggest barriers that he faced when starting up his backyard farming project, and what he thinks the biggest barriers for other beginning farmers would be. He mentioned that “the hardest part about starting any farming practice is acquiring the knowledge, capital and space to do so. For me, just starting out was hard, I had to do a lot of research to see what kind of effort went into owning chickens, how much space they need and what needs to be done to keep them healthy and safe from predators.”
As of now it seems that the major barriers that new farmers face are meeting the start up costs and gaining adequate land area to operate on. It also seems that there needs to be some sort of reform within society to change the way we view farming as a profession. Farming is such an integrated part of everyone’s life, it is a tragedy that it is often overlooked as a viable career choice. However, there are many opportunities and organizations out there to help young farmers get off the ground and take their first steps. So what are you waiting for. Get out there and grow something!
-Posted by Brandon