Though farming was once big business in the United States, by 2012 less than 1 percent of Americans were professional farmers. Many challenges face today’s farmers, many of which are largely unknown to the general public.
Many people have an outdated view of a farm as a small, family-owned and operated parcel of land where livestock is raised in open pens and crops are hand-harvested when ripe. The reality is that modern-day farms have had to overhaul operations to meet demand and remain competitively priced while adapting to the ever-changing ways technology infiltrates all parts of life. Each of these factors present obstacles for today’s farmers.
Rural farming communities are expected to make an effort to integrate modern technology into an industry that has been around for centuries. But such a transition in rural areas, where communications systems may not be as up-to-date as those in urban areas, is not always so easy.
According to the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council, a shift from a resource-based to an information-based economy, compounded by the rapid introduction and expansion of new technology in the workplace, has altered farm operation and the skills in demand. Older workers who have been schooled in one way of agriculture may have a significant impact on labor supply and the vitality of farming as a career. Younger adults who are knowledgeable in technology may no longer seek out agricultural careers.
Decrease in farming as an occupation
The United States Environmental Protection Agency says that only about 960,000 Americans claim farming as their principal occupation. As that figure has dwindled, the average age of farmers continues to rise, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that roughly 40 percent of the farmers in this country are 55 years old or older. This has led to concerns about the long-term health of family farms throughout the United States.
Many farmers have come under scrutiny for how farming impacts the environment. A growing emphasis on sustainability and conservation has led many people to protest certain farming practices. Protesters claim that certain practices, such as raising livestock, can pollute water, while the use of fertilizers and chemical pesticides is bad for the environment. Many farmers, however, have altered their methods to be more environmentally friendly and self-sustainable in the process.
The ongoing recession of the last half-decade has also affected farmers. In November of 2012, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the unemployment rate within the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting industries was at 13.6 percent, far higher than the national unemployment rate. As a result, many farm families have found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, as rising costs for equipment and technology are being coupled with decreasing profits and rising unemployment.
Further complicating matters is competition from corporations and international food producers who have made it difficult for family farmers to turn a significant profit. Many family farmers rely on loans and lines of credit to survive, but thanks to changes in the financial sector that saw banks become less willing to extend lines of credit, some farmers are facing bankruptcy.
Though it can be easy for those who do not work in the agricultural industry to overlook the struggles facing today’s agricultural professionals, a greater understanding of those struggles and the challenges that lay ahead can benefit the industry and its employees down the road.