U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan has been crisscrossing the country, visiting college campuses to educate young people about careers in agriculture. Merrigan's efforts are spurred by the rising age of farmers in America, which is 57. (In 2002, it was 55.) Agricultural census figures show that the fastest-growing group of farmers and ranchers is the segment over 65. For every one farmer and rancher under 25, there are five who are 75 or older.

New Mexico has the highest percentage of older farmers and ranchers, at 37 percent, followed by Arizona, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

“We need more tools to draw in new, young farmers in America,” said Merrigan during a recent visit to the University of Colorado - Denver, where she also pointed out that the dairy industry faces an even more dramatic aging trend, with many farmers in their 80s.

North Carolina's Agriculture Commissioner, Steve Troxler, makes similar visits to regional campuses. He recently told the Southern Farm Network that the average age of a farmer in North Carolina has also been creeping up steadily and is now 57.3 years old.

He says the only way to reverse that upward trend is to recruit more young people to take up farming.


Click here to listen to Troxler talk about the aging of farmers in North Carolina and the U.S.

Merrigan and Troxler both mention the National Young Farmers' Coalition, specifically the policy changes the group promotes, which would make it easier for beginning farmers and ranchers to start and strengthen agricultural businesses. PD