Young farmers and ranchers this year expressed an unprecedented high level of optimism regarding their futures in agriculture, but said they continue to be challenged by overall profitability and would like to see government do more to help young people just starting out in farming.
The 12th annual survey of participants in the American Farm Bureau Federationâ€™s Young Farmer and Rancher (YF&R) Program, revealed that 81% of the respondents said they were more optimistic about agriculture than five years ago - up more than 20 percentage points from last year and the highest level of optimism since the surveyâ€™s inception in 1993. The previous high mark for stated optimism was 80.7% in 1997.
That was one of the key findings of this yearâ€™s survey of 342 young farmers and ranchers from 45 states, ages 18-35. The survey was conducted by AFBF during the organizationâ€™s 2004 YF&R Conference, held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Overall, the survey revealed that young farmers and ranchers are committed to their mission of providing food, fiber and fuel for the nation, while they care for the environment and invest in new technology to sharpen their business skills for todayâ€™s competitive world.
For the sixth straight year America's young farmers and ranchers said the biggest challenge facing them is overall profitability. And, for the first time ever, the young farmers said providing help to beginning farmers and ranchers was the best way the government could help.
"Young farmers and ranchers are truly excited about the future of agriculture and the roles they will continue to play in producing the worldâ€™s safest and most abundant food supply," says AFBF President Bob Stallman. "All Americans should share that excitement because this survey shows that the future of American agriculture is in competent, capable and caring hands."
Ranking the challenges
In spite of their high level of optimism, overall profitability (18.6%) was the top concern cited by the young farmers and ranchers. That mark, however, fell considerably from last yearâ€™s 31.9%.
The young farmers indicated the limited availability of land and other resources was their second highest challenge, selected by 16.5% of respondents, also down from last yearâ€™s 21.9%. Third on this year's list of challenges was the cost of government regulations (15.7%, up from 13.6% in 2003). Over the survey's 12-year history, profitability has topped the list of concerns nine times and regulations three times.
The fourth biggest challenge on this year's list was the availability of healthcare, selected by 10% of the respondents. Fifth on the list (9.3%) was the challenge of urban encroachment on farmland, followed by challenges related to parental control of farm decisions (8.1%), the availability of water (7.3%) and agricultural financing (5.2%). Competition from more established farms finished in ninth place. Labor issues, aftereffects of the U.S. bovine spongiform encephalopathy incident and tax burdens rounded out the list.