87 percent of young farmers, ranchers express more optimism

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The latest survey of participants in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers & Ranchers program shows that America’s young farmers and ranchers are an optimistic lot. Results of the 19th annual YF&R survey reveal that 87 percent of those surveyed are more optimistic about farming and ranching than they were five years ago.

This is the highest optimism level ever in AFBF’s annual YF&R survey, which was initiated in 1993. Last year, 80 percent of those surveyed said they were more optimistic about farming than they were five years ago. The previous high was in 2008, when 82 percent said they were more optimistic.

“Farming and ranching is a tough but rewarding way of life. One trait all farmers and ranchers share is optimism and hope for the future, and that’s what this survey shows,” said Ben LaCross, YF&R chairman and a Cedar, Mich., cherry, plum and apple producer. “Whether you produce tree fruit or beef cattle, you have to be an optimist to succeed in farming and ranching these days.”

The 2011 survey also shows nearly 90 percent of the nation’s young farmers and ranchers say they are better off than they were five years ago.  Last year, 82 percent reported being better off than they were five years ago.

Nearly 94 percent considered themselves lifetime farmers, while 96 percent would like to see their children follow in their footsteps. The informal survey reveals that 87 percent believe their children will be able to follow in their footsteps.

Despite the high level of optimism, the young farm and ranch leaders express concerns. The number one concern is economic challenges, with 22 percent ranking profitability as their top concern. Government regulations were also a top concern of many of those surveyed, with 17 percent ranking that as their top concern. Nearly 10 percent ranked tax burdens as their No. 1 concern.

When asked what top three steps the federal government should take to help young farmers and ranchers, cutting government spending was the top response, with 17 percent listing that as the most important step. Thirteen percent of those surveyed said the government should provide financial help to beginning farmers, while 12 percent said reforming environmental regulations was the top step.

“Almost all young farmers and ranchers want to stay on the farm for the rest of their lives, and just about all of us would like our children and grandchildren to follow in our footsteps,” LaCross explained. “However, we are still concerned that massive government debt and burdensome government regulations will make it tougher for future generations to stay on the farm. The top priority for government policymakers is to cut spending, reduce the debt and lessen the grip of ever-burdensome regulations. This will be good for agriculture and good for America.”

The survey shows that America’s young farmers and ranchers are committed environmental stewards, with 72 percent saying that balancing environmental and economic concerns is important in their operations. The survey shows 58 percent use conservation tillage on their farms.

In addition, computers and the Internet are vital tools for the nation’s young farmers and ranchers, with 92 percent surveyed reporting using a computer in their farming operation. Nearly all of those surveyed, 98 percent, have access to the Internet. High-speed Internet is used by 74 percent of those surveyed, with 24 percent relying on a satellite connection and 2 percent turning to dialup.

The popular social media site, Facebook, is used by 76 percent of those surveyed who use the Internet. The most popular use of the Internet in the survey is to gather news and agricultural information, with 81 percent turning to it for that use.

Finally, the survey points out that 74 percent of YF&R members consider communicating with consumers a formal part of their jobs.

“More and more young farmers and ranchers know that we must reach out to our customers, and we are using social media and other 21st century tools to tell our story and teach consumers,” LaCross said. “This is a trend that has staying power.”

AFBF President Bob Stallman said the annual YF&R survey points out that the future of U.S. agriculture is in good hands.

“I know our young farmers and ranchers have the know-how and tenacity to ensure that the best days are ahead for our country and agriculture.” Stallman said. “They give us all hope for the future.”

The informal survey of young farmers and ranchers, ages 18-35, was conducted at AFBF’s 2011 YF&R Leadership Conference in Orlando, Fla., in February. The purpose of Farm Bureau’s YF&R program is to help younger Farm Bureau members learn more about agriculture, network with other farmers and become future leaders in agriculture and Farm Bureau.

Source: American Farm Bureau Federation



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