Farms and ranches are part of the heritage of the United States. Many have been run by the same family for decades, handed down from generation to generation. Some have not survived the hard times and drastically changed conditions of the past several decades. But those who remain are a crucial part of the U.S. economy.
The most recent ag census showed over 2.2 million farms in this country, with more than 3 million related agricultural operators. According to an Obama administration report on strengthening rural communities, farm sector income has rebounded dramatically since 2009. They report farm sector income at a record $98.1 billion in 2011, with exports also at a record level of $137.4 billion. Farm exports alone provide over 1.5 million jobs in America. The overall value of the farm sector to the U.S. economy reportedly increased 35% between mid-2009 and the end of 2011.
What does all this mean if you are a farmer or considering becoming one? For one thing it means that U.S. rural communities are attracting more attention from the government and other organizations that can help them survive and thrive in today’s economy. That results in a greater flow of capital, broader access to loans and grants, and more research and development available to improve output and operating margins.
Aging Farmer Population
While the overall American worker population is aging, the average farmer age is growing at a faster pace. The median age is currently over 58, up from just over 50 eight years ago. It’s important to note, though, that this age only reflects the main operator of a farm. So a large farm headed by a 58-year-old might employ many younger farmers whose age is not reflected in the average.
Still the aging factor represents a concern to those who appreciate the importance of farms and ranches. So there is an increasing emphasis on encouraging and supporting younger people getting into farming and ranching for the first time. Scholarships for education, new options to reduce barriers to entry, innovative internships, and organizations and funding dedicating to attracting newcomers are all increasing.
Alternative Farming Opportunities
In addition to growing support for farmers overall, there are new opportunities in rapidly emerging specialties. These areas are not only creating new opportunities for revenues and profits, they are also attracting new, younger participants to farming.
These promising fields include organic farming and certifications, “specialty crops” (most often fruits and nuts) which qualify for special funding, crop-based energy products or “bioproducts” (e.g. chemicals, power and fuels), and tourism that is based on agriculture. The organic industry alone had a retail value that was up over $10 billion between 2008 and 2011, reaching $31.4 billion in that year. And specialty crops represented $18 billion in U.S. farm income in 2011.
Farm Grants: Where and How to Find Them
Farm grants and loans – as well as other types of assistance – come from surprising number of sources. In fact, the variety of government agencies involved in addition to other supporting groups and organizations can be overwhelming and confusing. We have researched what’s available and broken it down into usable categories so you can find the help you need most quickly. Read our articles to get more detailed information.