Iowa youth optimistic about ag careers, including farming

Iowa youth optimistic about ag careers, including farming

Survey of Iowa FFA members at 2016 state convention shows 96% have positive outlook on the future of agriculture.

Despite the recent downturn in the ag economy, 86% of Iowa’s youth intend to pursue a career in agriculture, according to a recent survey of Iowa FFA members conducted by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF).

This marks the 11th year CSIF has conducted the survey at the annual Iowa FFA State Leadership Conference. The 2016 state convention was held last month, as over 5,000 Iowa FFA members met in Ames. Of the 422 FFA members surveyed, 96% indicated they have a positive outlook on agriculture’s future in Iowa.

Why young Iowans are positive about a future in agriculture

AG OFFERS OPPORTUNITIES: At a time when rural Iowa struggles with population loss and the state strives to retain its young people, agriculture continues to be a bright spot. In a recent survey of Iowa FFA members, 86% want to pursue a career in agriculture.

“I believe agriculture has a very positive future. With the world population expected to increase greatly by 2050, there’s always going to be demand for food,” said James Kies Jr., a junior at Cascade High School and member of the school’s FFA chapter. He notes that the current world population of 7.2 billion people is projected to increase by 1 billion over the next 12 years and reach 9.6 billion by 2015, according to the United Nations. That growth will be mainly in developing countries.

After completing his education, Kies hopes to farm and plans to diversify his operation by raising both crops and livestock. “I’d like to have my own dairy farm and small cow-calf beef operation. I like waking up in the morning knowing I have something to do.”

Kies is not alone in his desire to farm. Of the Iowa FFA members surveyed, 63% indicated they would like to farm. Of those, 90% intend to raise livestock.

“The optimism Iowa’s youth has for agriculture and livestock production is reflective of calls the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers is receiving,” says Brian Waddingham, CSIF executive director. “Today, opportunities in the livestock industry abound. From the traditional enterprises like hogs, cattle, dairy, turkey and poultry to new and emerging opportunities like aquaculture, the calls we’ve received indicate there is still interest in growing the livestock industry in spite of current lower commodity prices.”

Other findings from the survey of FFA members include:
•69% of respondents intend to live and work in Iowa. Another 18% plan to leave Iowa for a few years, but then plan to return to their home state.

•In both 2015 and 2016, 48% indicated the primary obstacle to young people getting started farming is start-up costs, the highest this percentage has been during the survey’s history.

•77% of FFA members are planning to attain at least a four-year degree, with 20% planning on attaining an advanced degree.

The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers has helped many young people like Kies successfully stay or return to the farm. “With high start-up costs, it can be challenging for young people,” Waddingham says. “Livestock and poultry production provide a great avenue to help young people return to the family farm or get started on their own. It’s also good news for Iowa’s economy. In the state of Iowa, animal ag contributed $30.1 billion in economic output and provided 1 in 5 jobs in 2014.”

CSIF is a nonprofit organization that assists livestock farmers who want help interpreting rules and regulations, guidance on good site locations for barns, counsel on enhancing neighbor relations and tips on how to protect the environment. There is no cost to the farmer for these services. For more information, call 800-932-2436 or visit

CSIF was created by farmers to help farmers raise livestock responsibly and successfully. It’s a joint partnership involving the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Egg Council, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy Association.

 The CSIF survey of FFA members has been conducted 11 times: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006 and 2005. A trendline analysis of the most frequently-asked questions is available here at

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