Wanted: Tomorrow’s Growers
It’s no secret that growers aren’t getting any younger. In fact nearly 74% of respondents to the State of the Industry survey told us they are 55 or older. This is keeping with a 30-year trend in which the average age of a farmer has continued to grow. The average grower nationally is now 58.3 years old, according to data from the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture. With a new survey being conducted soon, that number is expected to continue to rise.
And so it’s even more stressful that growers are finding it challenging to locate someone to take over when they’re ready to retire. More than 54% of our survey respondents say there is no one to continue the business.
“This is certainly an issue,” says a Northwestern grower whose family business has been in operation for more than 10 years.
A Northeastern grower whose operation has been in business for 25-50 years says succession to the next generation is the biggest challenge to his business.
“[We’re] on a conservation easement to keep it out of houses and give young people the opportunity to experience farming without having to borrow from parents — if they have parents that can afford it,” he says.
Instead of passing his farm on to another generation, he “decided to retire and lease the land to a younger farmer in 2016.”
Another grower in the West, whose operation has been in business for more than 50 years, says “I intern students, family members on the periphery, ranchette pressure quite high and has me land-locked.”
A Southeastern grower whose business has been in operation for more than 25 years says “competition with off-farm work,” is the biggest challenge for finding someone to assume operation of the business.
A Southwestern grower whose family business has been in operation for more than 10 years is concerned about the future, saying he “will probably have to sell upon retirement.”
A Northeastern grower whose family has been in operation for more than 10 years says “We are quietly looking for a buyer now.”
“As I get older I can’t keep up with the work,” says a grower in the West whose family business has been in operation for more than 25 years. “I hope there are some who would rather work with dirt than punch a computer.”
Growers also think the next generation sees farming as grueling work — assumed to be too hard for those who might be potentially interested.
“There is no one in our family who wants to do this hard work,” says a Southeastern grower whose family business has been in operation for less than 10 years.
This is echoed by a grower in the West, with a business in operation for more than 25 years.
“Growing fruit is HARD WORK and the GenNext generation wants to sit behind a computer,” he says.
Not only hard work, but the increase in paperwork and government regulations makes joining a family business a difficult sell, says a Western grower whose family has been farming for more than 10 years.
“Our three sons don’t want to deal with all of the regulations; the farming part they don’t mind,” she says.
However, there are bright spots for growers, including one Southwestern grower whose family business has been in operation for 25-50 years. She says “my son is working on helping us get help.”
And a Northwestern grower whose family has been farming for more than 25 years happily says, “My daughter bought our operation.”