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Young farmers & large farms may mix -- economist

Jeff Caldwell 04/03/2013 @ 7:38am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Young farmers typically face an uphill climb in getting a foothold in row crop agriculture, especially when it comes to scaling up in size.

But, new data shows younger farmers have a growing tendency to operate larger farms, bucking the widely accepted trend that farm size and farmer age are inversely related demographics.

"Younger beginning farmers are more likely to operate large farms than are older operators of beginning farms. In 2011, 11% of beginning operators under age 35 had gross farm sales of $250,000 or more, compared with 6% of those age 35-49 and 1% of those age 50 and older," according to USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) ag economist Mary Ahearn. "As a result, young beginning farm households tend to earn more on their farm and less off their farm than other beginning farm households."

But, the data calls for a clear distinction between "young, beginning farmers" and "beginning farmers," Ahearn adds. Comparing the 2, the former has the advantage over the latter. But, there's more to the distinction; younger farmers still face a tougher row to hoe when it comes to raising necessary capital to operate a larger farm, and they often depend more on income sources away from the farm.

"While beginning farmers under age 35 have more debt than older beginning farmers and have lower average net worth, a higher share of young beginning farmers operate profitable farm businesses," Ahearn says. "Still, more than half of young beginning farmers report losses and, on average, they have much higher debt-to-asset ratios than older beginning farmers. One factor in the viability of young farmers will be the degree to which they can manage their business-related debt into the future."


See more data from Ahearn's research

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