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Young farmers see a diverse future

Jeff Caldwell 09/07/2011 @ 2:12pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

What's tomorrow's successful farm going to look like? High technology and crop diversity are just a couple things that will pace the next generation of farmers on the land, young farmers say.

Ben Pearson knows things are going to have to change on his family's Nickerson, Kansas, farm by the time he's ready to take the reins. But, how exactly should it change to present him the best path to sustaining the farm?

"My Dad's generation and some earlier farmers of ours have been able to adopt no-till where they stand out to landlords, cut production costs and reap the benefits of Roundup technology," Pearson says. "Should we be thinking about how to meet the world's growing meat demand and also be trying to reduce our dependency on commercial fertilizers? Is going to a form of organic farming -- but not to the extreme way -- what we should think about to cut our costs? Or is the use of cover crops what is going to set us apart?"

That's a lot to think about for any farmer, but some members of the younger generation are thinking about these kinds of decisions as they move forward.

"I can say that there are plenty of opportunities around in my area for getting started in farming be it with hay, crops, livestock, or some combination of all 3. There are plenty of old guys who don't have kids around who want to see their farm still used for agriculture into the distant future," says Aaron Braunschweig, a young farmer from Neosho, Wisconsin, and member of Farmersforthefuture.com. "Our generation's play is whatever it has to be. Whether that means switching to no-till or going semi-organic is your call and should be determined by the situation you're in, I believe. In general, it means being better marketers, managers, and producers."

Just don't take a cookie-cutter approach to looking into ways to diversify your farm. Start where your operational strengths lie, advises Lakin, Kansas, farmer Adam White.

"Every farm is different; every farm has their own ways of handling things. I believe in no-till, but I also believe it is best suited in certain soil types, which we have few that allow it," he says. "Yes, ground acquisition is hard anymore because it's either in the family, been rented by certain family for years, or the 85-year-old who just won't give up! Just have to hang in there, good things come to those who wait."

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