Despite a recent increase in young farmers, American agriculture continues to hemorrhage small and mid-sized farms.
Fresh meat in American agriculture
The Young Farmers Coalition, an advocacy group for young farmers and ranchers, just released a new report that details the challenges young American farmers face, like access to land and student debt, but also hits on some positive trends, like the fact that the 2012 Census of Agriculture “registered an increase over the previous census in the number of farmers under 35 years old” – the first time that’s happened in a century.
- Land access is the biggest challenge for young farmers, according to a survey conducted for the report – 39 percent of respondents called it a significant challenge, with 17 percent identifying it as the most significant challenge.
- Student loan debt was the second biggest challenge – 10 percent of all respondents cited it as their most significant challenge.
- The shortage of skilled labor came in third, with another 10 percent of all respondents citing it as the biggest challenge.
- Healthcare was also frequently cited as a concern – nearly half of all respondents called it a significant challenge, with 8 percent calling it the biggest concern. No surprise, then, that the Affordable Care Act was cited most often as the most helpful “program, policy, or institution.”
The demographics are interesting, and encouraging, if you tend to value things like diversity, locally-grown produce, and environmental stewardship:
- About 60 percent of survey respondents were women, and the proportion of people of color and indigenous farmers was roughly twice the national average in the 2012 Census (still, a full 87 percent of the farmers were white).
- 75 percent respondents did not grow up on a farm, and about 70 percent had degrees beyond high school.
- More than 80 percent of respondents grow two or more products, and many use livestock to help diversify their farms.
- 75 percent of respondents called their farm practices “sustainable,” and 63 percent claim to grow organically, although, as the report observes, many “have not sought certification.”
On Thanksgiving, the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey published a feature about the trend, contextualizing the good news within a much starker picture for small and mid-sized American agriculture:
Between 1992 and 2012, the country lost more than 250,000 midsize and small commercial farms, according to the USDA. During that same period, more than 35,000 very large farms started up, and the large farms already in existence consolidated their acreage.
In other words: as the agriculture industry has hemorrhaged farmers, big commercial farms (along with residential developers) scooped up land. The USDA reports that agriculture picked up 2,384 young farmers between 2007 and 2012 – but lost almost 100,000 farmers between 45 and 54. Those numbers are staggering. Let’s hope for more good news in the future.
Some other interesting things you might have missed this week:
After a week of pumping out ash, Bali’s Mount Agung finally erupted on Tuesday, spewing cold lava, “which experts say are a prelude to the blazing orange lava we associate with volcanic eruptions,” says Australia’s news.com.au.
The Republican tax plan that everyone’s biting their nails over might do even more damage to Puerto Rico’s storm recovery.
- A provision in the House bill would impose a 20 percent tax on goods built in Puerto Rico.
- The island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, and its nonvoting representative in Congress, Jenniffer González, worked to kill the provision, but it stayed in. Gonzalez says, however, that “she’s received assurances from Republican leaders that if the measure passes the Senate,” the provision in the House version will be fixed.
NASA came out with a supercool time-lapse video of the earth over the past two decades. If you want to see how the earth “breathes,” check it out right here. This animated long-term data set provides a visual representation of past changes and potential future shifts.
Mexico now has the largest marine reserve in North America, encompassing the Revillagigedo Archipelago (AKA the “little Galapagos”). The area is bigger than the state of Michigan and, like the Galapagos, has many species found nowhere else in the world thanks to its isolation.
- Bonus: This Earther article, describing the magical sea creatures scientists found when exploring the Archipelago.