FARM BUREAU SURVEY SHOWS OPTIMISM AMONG YOUNG FARMERS
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 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 attending the group's annual conference last month.
"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.
YOUNG FARMERS VIEW MAJOR ISSUES
"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 proved 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).
The Farm Bureau YF&R group has adopted a position requesting that Congress provide tax breaks to assist young farmers and ranchers get a foothold in farming. Reflecting that position, 15 percent of the respondents placed government assistance to help beginning farmers as one of their three priorities for government action.
The two other government actions that should be priorities, according to the group, have been grabbing attention of young and old farmers alike. They want an energy policy that includes a bigger role for renewable fuels (16 percent). They also want the government to strengthen private property rights (14 percent), which reflects a common rural America sentiment for state legislators to outlaw use of eminent domain for economic development projects.
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.
SOME CHANGES IN FARMING PRACTICES
Results reflecting farming practices being used during 2006 are quite similar in most aspects to 2005 farming practices as reported by the producers, who generally range from 18 to 35 years of age.
This year's group represented a slightly different geography than those surveyed last year. There were a higher number of Midwest growers at this year's conference in Des Moines, Iowa, compared to last year's New Orleans, La., conference.
The biggest difference from this year to last year in crop production practices is that 58 percent of this year's respondents will be planting biotech crop varieties compared with only 45 percent in 2005.
Use of futures and options in marketing their crops and livestock was much higher with this year's group than last year's respondents -- 33 percent compared to 22 percent. This is not near an all-time high because in 2000 the survey showed 50 percent of the responding Farm Bureau young farmers and ranchers were using futures and options.
The two other management tools used by at least 30 percent of this year's farmers were accounting services (38 percent) and crop advisers (34 percent). In 2005, these two services also were the top outside services used -- accounting (41 percent) and crop advisers (38 percent).
Conservation tillage, soil/tissue analysis and crop rotation for 10 years running have topped the survey as one, two and three as the most commonly used conservation and environmental stewardship practices.
This year the numbers were: conservation tillage (59 percent), soil/tissue analysis (46 percent) and crop rotation (41 percent). Last year the numbers were: conservation tillage (54 percent), crop rotation (49 percent) and soil/tissue analysis (46 percent). Most respondents each year note that they use more than one conservation practice.
Other high-ranking practices compared between 2006 and 2005 were: integrated pest management (28 percent to 22 percent) and conservation reserve program (26 percent to 21 percent).
Responses on how they consider environmental and economic concerns in deciding their farming practices were quite similar this year compared to last year. The survey showed that both are of concern with an environmental emphasis (27 percent), both are of concern with an economic emphasis (63 percent), environmental concerns are paramount (3 percent) and economic concerns are paramount (7 percent).
INCOME FROM OTHER THAN FARMING
Fewer husbands but more wives among the 2006 respondents are working off the farm compared to last year and in 2004. The totals for this year show 8 percent of the husbands, 43 percent of the wives and both of them, 25 percent, are working off the farm to earn additional income. This compares with 2005 numbers of 11 percent, 35 percent and 30 percent respectively. In 2004, it was 13 percent, 37 percent and 20 percent.
As always, a primary reason for having at least one spouse work off the farm is to obtain health insurance benefits. This year it was 47 percent and last year it was 43 percent that said health insurance was a factor in off-farm employment.
Fewer farm couples from this year's group are supplementing their income with on-farm enterprises such as custom work or seed sales -- 60 percent this year compared to 67 percent last year.
TECHNOLOGY USE NOT CHANGING
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.
Home satellite television use was 42 percent each of the last two years.
There were no significant changes in the way that these farmers are using their computer Internet access. The Internet continues to be a source of general agricultural news (73 percent in both 2006 and 2005) and entertainment (64 percent and 63 percent during the last two years). Education, record keeping, purchases, commodity marketing, information for buying and political activity/communications were all quite similar in percentage of use between 2005 and 2006.