Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan is touring the country and encouraging young people to enter the agricultural profession.
With the U.S. Department of Agriculture working on the 2012 agricultural census, agricultural officials are looking more and more at the demographics of American farming. Overall, the profession is gradually graying, with fewer and fewer younger farmers entering the ag sector to replace retirees. Nationally, the fastest growing group of farmers and ranchers are those over 65.
The Southwest in particular is facing particularly grim demographic shifts. In New Mexico, where Merrigan recently stopped last week, the average age of farmers is 60. In Texas and Arizona, the figures are similar. Texas may see a spike in average age, with younger farmers being discouraged from joining the profession in the wake of the worst drought in the state’s history.
The attention to farm demographics has also been heightened by a Yahoo Education blog that listed agricultural degrees as “useless.” The blog has since gone viral, with angry responses flying from the public and private sector. Merrigan stated, “There couldn’t be anything that’s more outrageously incorrect. We know that we’re not graduating enough qualified aggies to fill the jobs that are out there in American agriculture.”
Part of Merrigan’s multistate trip is focused on promoting USDA programs and policies that apply to young farmers and offer federal support and aid to young people entering the agricultural profession.
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer