COLUMBUS – The aging farm population in Ohio needs a new generation to fill its shoes, but young farmers face many obstacles getting off the ground.
Lindsey Lusher Shute, an Ohio native and executive director of the National Young Farmers Coalition, says capital is the biggest challenge for beginning farmers, especially those who are under financial constraints such as student loan debt.
She says it’s also very difficult to access land, particularly near major cities where prices may be impacted by competing developers.
“Areas within 200 miles of cities where a farmer really may have the best chance of success because they can do direct marketing, direct sales, that’s where land is more expensive,” she says. “So land remains one of the major challenges.”
Shute says while the country has grown by 200 million people since 1920, there are 28 million fewer farmers. And she’ll be in Ohio next month to discuss the tools and resources needed to support beginning farmers. Shute is the keynote speaker at the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association’s annual conference in Granville Feb. 12 through the 14.
Shute explains many beginning farmers want to give back to the land and sustainability is at the core of their motivation. Some come from a long line of farmers, but she says the majority are starting from scratch.
“Their presence is very welcome in the farm community because many farm kids have not been encouraged to stay on the farm in the past few generations,” Shute says. “And so this influx of new farm entrepreneurs is very necessary and vital for the farm economy.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows almost 30 percent of Ohio farmers are age 65 or older, and just seven percent are younger than 35 years of age. Shute says agriculture needs young people to ensure the growth of local food systems.
“If we don’t do something about this gap we have and to make sure that this beautiful farmland in Ohio and across the nation,” says Shute. “If we’re not sure that’s going to go to another working farm family, then we will not have family farms in the future and we will not have food security.”
And one policy measure that would help, says Shute, is the Young Farmers Success Act of 2016. It would add farmers to a public loan forgiveness program.