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Finkenauer Looks to Expand Resources for Next Generation of Farmers

Washington, July 25, 2019

Washington, D.C.— Today, the House Small Business Subcommittee on Rural Development, Agriculture, Trade, and Entrepreneurship, under Chairwoman Abby Finkenauer (D-IA) gathered young farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs to discuss the issues that they face and ways that Congress can support them.

"The future of our rural economy truly depends on this next generation," said Chairwoman Finkenauer. "Just like our teachers, police officers, and small business owners, farmers are part of the fabric of rural communities. They make places like my hometown somewhere people can work hard, raise a family, and build a good life."

The agricultural industry has played a substantial role in America's culture and economy throughout our nation's history. According to the last United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) census, American farms and ranches produced $388.5 billion of economic output. In the early 20th century, 38% of Americans were farms and more than half the U.S. population lived in rural parts of the country. While farming remains an integral part of our country, today only 2% of Americans work on farms with 1/5th residing in rural areas. Today's farmers face many challenges, including increased movement into cities, an aging population, farm consolidation, and unpredictable weather patterns.

Another substantial challenge that the agricultural sector faces is the aging population of farmers and ranchers. The average age of an American farmer is 58 years old, and farmers over the age of 55 now outnumber farmers under 35 by a margin of seven to one.

However, in recent years, a younger generation of farmers has stepped up to join the industry and learn from their older counterparts. In 2017, the Census of Agriculture registered an increase over the previous census in the number of farmers under 35 years old. Yet, young farmers are facing many unique barriers to entering the industry, including lack of access to affordable land and capital and mounting student loan bills.

During the hearing, Committee members spoke with young farmers about the challenges that they face and solutions that would help them flourish and help other young people looking to enter the industry. 

“When I first began farming, I sold primarily to family and friends. Today, I sell these crops throughout Eastern Iowa—to grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, school districts, and colleges,” said Jason Grimm, Owner of Grimm Family Farm in Williamsburg Iowa. “Now in my eighth growing season, like so many other young farmers across the country, I have found myself limited by the instability of growing a business on leased land without an opportunity to build infrastructure and earn equity through ownership.”

“Farmers work day in and day out to feed our families and our communities,” said Meri Lillia Mullins a Farm Manager from Longmont, CO. “I would love for this to be my life’s work. The unfortunate reality is the risk is too high with my student debt burden and without inheriting any land. The current condition of the ranch I manage now is not conducive to turn a living profit in the next few years.”

“I would ask that you all invest in a model that is proven to work – apprenticeships,” said Matthew Keesling, a Farm Manager from Deerbrook, WI. “Protect the grants that are currently available and allocate them to better serving non-profits.  Universities ‘study’ but non-profits ‘do’.  Allow incentives for trainers and mentors as they grow the next generation of farmers.”

“As we have heard today, new farmers and ranchers face some significant challenges,” said Chairwoman Finkenauer. “But there are opportunities for the next generation to be part of the solutions to revitalize our rural communities, to make a home for their families, and to provide a service to our country.”

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