Aging farmer issue requires closer look

Aging farmer issue requires closer look

University of Illinois researcher reviews state's Census data, examining aging farmer trend in context of farm acreage and income

While many fear a trend toward older farmers, a University of Illinois agricultural economics researcher suggests that a deeper look at Census numbers and distribution of farm acres and income may indicate the problem is a "bit overstated by some."

Todd Kuethe, in an entry on farmdoc daily, examines the age of farm operators in Illinois, their primary source of income and the distribution of farms by age:

University of Illinois researchers examine Illinois Census data, examining aging farmer trend in context of farm acreage and income

"According the Census of Agriculture, Illinois was home to 75,087 farms in 2012. Figure 1 shows the distribution of Illinois farms by the age of the principal operator using predefined Census categories. It can be seen that a large proportion, 31.6%, of principal operators are 65 or older. This statistic can be alarming because these farmers are beyond what was once considered the traditional age of retirement."

Kuethe notes that the figure further differentiates farm operators by primary occupation, showing that across the entire age distribution, about 49.6% of Illinois principal farm operators list their main occupation as something other than farming.

"At both ends of the age distribution, a majority of the operators list farming as their primary occupation at 57.9% for under age 25 and 57.5% for 65 and over. In other words, our oldest and youngest farmers are more likely draw their livelihood from the farm operation, yet 43.4% of farm operators over age 65 still list some other profession as their main occupation."

Oldest farmers have smaller share of income, acreage

In the article, Kuethe also reviews the distribution of Illinois farms, farm acreage, and income by age of principal farm operator. According to this data, 31.6% of Illinois' farms have a principal operator age 65 or older but this age group represents a relatively smaller share of total farm acreage (24.6%) and farm income (21.5%).

Farmers between 35 and 54 represent a similar share of farm numbers at 32.7% but account for a much larger share of acreage (37%) and income (38.6%), Kuethe notes. An illustration of this data can be found on the farmdoc website.

"Just over half of Illinois' primary farm operators are between ages 45 and 64 (51.5%). This group, however, represents 60% of Illinois' agricultural land and 62.9% of the state's farm income.

"It is also important to note that the U.S. labor force, overall, is also aging. Zulauf (2013) uses data from previous Censuses of Agriculture as well as data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to show farm population aging mirrors that of the broader labor force."

Read the complete entry on farmdoc daily: Todd Kuethe, "We may not have an aging farmer problem after all"

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