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U.S. farmers are growing older

At 84 years old, farmer Bob Hawthorn’s hands are weathered. But despite his advanced age, Hawthorn has no plans to quit farming. (Ray Meints for NET News)
At 84 years old, farmer Bob Hawthorn’s hands are weathered. But despite his advanced age, Hawthorn has no plans to quit farming. (Ray Meints for NET News)

Today we launch “Changing Lands, Changing Hands,” a series of stories examining the implications of an unrelenting trend: The American farmer is getting older. For the last six months, Harvest Public Media’s reporting team has been considering the nuances of this demographic shift that affects not just rural America but the power and potential of an entire industry.

We explored the issue to some degree in our series last year, “The Farmer of the Future.” In that reporting effort, we found that technological, cultural and political forces are bringing immense change to people who build their lives around the land. But we kept coming back to the same thing: The aging of the farmer is changing agriculture right now.  

For each American farmer younger than 25, there are five who are 75 or older, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And the average age is steadily rising. As our reporting makes clear, as farmers retire (often at a very advanced age), not enough new farmers are able to move into their places. And we’re seeing this play out in the rising land values, a growing local food movement, an extreme squeeze on the midsize family farm, rampant consolidation in the industry, and population loss in rural areas.

We hope this latest series will bring clarity to the challenges facing production agriculture. Along with our online content, five radio stories will air on our partner stations. We have a story from all five of our Harvest reporters in five different states.  The capstone is a television documentary produced by Harvest reporter Grant Gerlock and his colleagues at Nebraska Educational Telecommunications. The documentary will air on Public Television Stations across the region, but you will be able to view it on our website as well.

We consider this issue – so firmly connected to the people who live the land - to be at the heart of our mission here at Harvest Public Media. As always, we welcome your comments and guidance.


More from this series