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Budding Trend: Young People on the Farm

Evidence mounts that young people are returning to farming in many parts of Canada and the U.S. Can it last?  Given demands on their time, slimmer margins, price of land and other obstacles, it’s little wonder young folks have for decades opted for non-farm careers.

That trend, however, has recently shown signs of reversing.

While the 2011 Canadian Census of Agriculture, the most recently released, showed a continued decades-long exodus of youth from farms, more recent anecdotal evidence points to an increase in the number of young producers. Extension agents, dealership staff, farmers and others describe seeing more men and women under the age of 40 at meetings, in their stores and on their farms.

Gavin MacDonald (left) and his father Donnie, tag-team their approximately 150-year-old dairy near New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

Gavin MacDonald (left) and his father Donnie, tag-team their approximately 150-year-old dairy near New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

“Lately,” says 26-year-old dairyman Gavin MacDonald of the region near his family’s community of Greenhill, Nova Scotia, “there has been an influx in young people that are really gung-ho to start farming or to continue farming, and that’s a really nice thing to see. I think [they] are interested in farming now because the technology is advancing in everything from milking cows to tractors they use, so it’s a lot different work than just manual labor. Even feed salesmen to tractor salesmen, they’re even getting younger too because there’s now a younger group of farmers.”

There’s now tangible evidence of the same trend in the U.S., albeit, as in Canada, the growth is mostly in the smaller farm sector. The most recent USDA Census of Agriculture—the 2012 edition, released in February—showed a 1.1% increase since 2007 in the number of producers younger than 35. A modest rise, but made all the more substantial when you consider that in 1982 young farmers less than 35 years old comprised 15.9% of the total. The most recent census shows the percentage of producers at just 5.7.

Perhaps these new census numbers and other evidence signal the exodus of young people from farming is abating. For more on the trend and Gavin MacDonalds’ dairy operation, see http://www.myfarmlife.com/crops/budding-trend-young-people-on-the-farm/.

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