by Pettus Read
Now that spring has arrived across Tennessee, farm fields are coming alive with activity. Tractors are running day and night to plant this year's crops and optimistic farmers are hoping for a year of good weather, a great growing season and markets being the best they have ever been.
Agriculture continues to be our state's number one industry and too often we forget what farmers do for us each and every day. Each day, farmers produce enough food to feed himself and 129 others, making American farmers the most productive in the world while supplying the most affordable and safest food in the world. Farming takes place on 85,000 farms and 11.6 million acres in Tennessee, and contributes about $2.5 billion to the state's economy each year.
But, what is the future of our number one industry you may ask? In a survey taken recently by the American Farm Bureau, the future looks somewhat brighter than it did a few years ago. Here is some of the information provided to me from the AFBF in a news release. For only the second time in 14 years, more than 95 percent of surveyed young farmers and ranchers said they hope their children follow in their footsteps. The survey was completed by members of Farm Bureau's Young Farmers and Ranchers organization attending the group's annual conference held a few weeks ago.
"The survey results show that young producers in general are optimistic about the future of agriculture, otherwise they wouldn't see a place for their children in farming and ranching," said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.
A total of 95.1 percent out of 330 young farmers and ranchers responding to the survey would like to see their children earn a living on the farm. The only time this number was higher was in 1996 when 95.5 percent wanted their children to become farmers and ranchers. Last year just 89 percent wanted to see their children follow in their footsteps.A few more of this year's respondents said they are better off today than last year and expect to be farmers or ranchers their entire life. The comparisons between the two years is 91 percent to 90 percent for those feeling they are better off today than last year, and expect to be lifetime farmers - 94 percent to 91 percent.
Overall optimism slumped slightly as 77 percent said they are more
optimistic than five years ago, compared to 79 percent agreeing with the statement last year.
Young farmers and ranchers are facing the reality that they will probably have to farm with fewer government subsidies, and most say that is acceptable. More respondents, 79 percent, think farm income should come totally from the markets (domestic and international). This compares with only 67 percent in 2005, but it is more in line with 2004 survey results of 82 percent who preferred not relying on the government for their income.
"Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers are entrepreneurs and are adapting with new strategies to earn a living," said Stallman. "Given a chance, these young people have proven themselves to be top-notch stewards of the nation's most important asset - its land."
The challenges facing these young farmers are consistent with where they see government needing to be involved. For the second year in a row, availability of land and facilities was a top challenge listed by the young farmers and ranchers. A total of 21 percent listed it as a top concern this year. Concern about how to be profitable was listed second most often (18 percent) and urbanization and loss of farm land was third (12 percent).
Of this year's group, 29 percent started farming on their own as a career decision, while 15 percent married into farming, 12 percent inherited a portion of their farming operation and 44 percent started as partners in a family operation. Last year, 53 percent (9 percent more of the respondents) started as partners and only 23 percent started on their own.
Responses for the last three years indicate that technology availability and use in rural America is not changing drastically, but cellular telephone use has reached an all-time high at 92 percent. Last year cell phone use was only at 83 percent which was a drop-off from 90 percent in 2004.
Young farmers and ranchers using computers from 2004 to 2006 has fluctuated little - 92 percent, 94 percent and 92 percent, respectively, and Internet access as a farming tool has changed slightly from 88 percent to 91 percent to 89 percent during the last three years.