Farmers as a group aren't necessarily as old, comparatively, to the rest of the labor force as they are made out to be, The Ohio State University's Carl Zulauf points out in a recent FarmDoc post, "Putting the Age of U.S. Farmers in Perspective."
Zulauf, in taking a look at USDA census data from 1945-2007, did find that the median age of farmers has risen from 48.7 years to 57.1 years – about 17%. In addition, the share of farmers age 65 and older has increased from 14% in 1945 to 30% in 2007.
However, when compared to other occupations, data implies that farmers and the U.S. labor force are actually aging in concert, and if anything, Zulauf says, farmers are aging somewhat slower.
When compared to the rest of the U.S. labor force, are America's farmers older?
His data shows that the 2007 average age of U.S. farmers exceeded the 2010 median age of the U.S. labor force by 15.4 years, but in 2010, only 4% of the labor force was over 65.
So what does it all mean? Zulauf says the "aging" farmer population isn't really anything new – farmers have been older than the U.S. labor force in general since 1980, and likely before, he says.
He points out that farming is capital-intensive – it takes time for someone to accumulate the capital necessary to compete in U.S.-style farming, either through inheritance or savings or both.
"While much is written about the need to replace the aging U.S. farmer population, the 1970 period of farm prosperity suggest the current period of prosperity will lead to an influx of younger farmers, sons and daughters of existing farmers and from non-farm backgrounds," Zulauf writes. "This influx will likely occur over a number of years and its magnitude will depend on the staying power of the current farm prosperity. In short, putting the age of farmers in perspective suggests the U.S. will likely have little problem replacing its aging farmer population."
Click to read the original post, "Putting the Age of U.S. Farmers in Perspective" on the University of Illinois' FarmDoc site.