KUNC

         

Will New MacDonald have a farm?

Chris Boeckmann raises both turkeys and cattle on his Loose Creek, Mo., farm. (Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media)

It might seem like the U.S. farmer comes in a pretty standard size.

Just look at the 2007 Census of Agriculture, which determined that the average farmer age was 57 and that 93.5 percent of farmers are white. 

That American Gothic image of Ma and Pa struggling on the farm may be fairly clear in your mind, but it's just not accurate. There is no one-size-fits-all in agriculture today. And what's more, there are huge concerns about who will actually be able to take on the job of the U.S. farmer a few decades from now.

Of course, at the heart of the matter is a dramatic aging trend.  Between 2002 and 2007 alone, the number of farmers over 65 grew by nearly 22 percent.  For every one farmer and rancher under the age of 25, there are five who are 75 or older, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

Interactive Map: Average Age of Principal Farm Operator

Are farmers getting older?  Yes. Check out this interactive map that charts the aging population of U.S. farmers. The darker the blue, the more the average age of principal farm operators changed from 1997-2007.
(Source: 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture)

So yes, farmers are getting older. But on top of this come technological, cultural and political forces that are bringing immense change to people who commit to building their lives around the land.

Ever since Harvest Public Media’s launch in October 2010, we’ve built our coverage around trying to figure out how these forces are playing out in food-focused communities.  We’ve explored everything from aging farmers making connections with young would-be farmers (“eHarmony for farmers”); to the economic obstacles faced by family farmers (“Midsize family farmers getting squeezed”); to the challenges involved when more women are inheriting the land  (“Redefining the farm woman”).

Our Home Fields series last year was basically an examination of whether or not local food systems (with small-scale farmers) can be a larger-scale building block for the future.

Farmer of the Future: More in this series

And now we offer up Farmer of the Future, a five-part radio series, TV documentary and live talk show produced in cooperation with our partner public media stations.  It offers a slightly sideways glimpse at some of the forces we haven’t explored much in our previous work. How do immigrants fit into the picture? What does sustainability really mean? Who are you calling a corporate farmer?

Think of it as just a beginning, though, to Harvest’s commitment to this conversation.

And as we move forward, forget “us versus them.”

Old, young. Male, female. Big, small. Family, corporation.

They’re all part of the Farmer of the Future.

We hope you’ll share your perspective with us by becoming part of the Harvest Network, where we cultivate all the views from the field. Plus, this summer look for our salute to rural heritage through "My Farm Roots," a StoryCorps-type project in which we get to share your stories and memories.

Meanwhile, to keep you focused, here are just a few more of the stories that Harvest has produced over the last 18 months that speak to the changing nature of the Farmer of the Future:

Who’s wearing these overalls?

Finding a niche: When fewer pigs means more

Concerns bubble up over farmland values

Higher estate tax exemption buoys farm estates – for now

High hoops for local food production

Investing in Ag 2.0