Chal­lenges fac­ing farm­ers to­day and to­mor­row

The Covington News - - AGRICULTURE - STAFF RE­PORTS news@cov­news.com

Though farm­ing was once big busi­ness in the United States, by 2012 less than 1 per­cent of Amer­i­cans were pro­fes­sional farm­ers. Many chal­lenges face to­day’s farm­ers, many of which are largely un­known to the gen­eral pub­lic.

Many people have an out­dated view of a farm as a small, fam­ily-owned and op­er­ated par­cel of land where live­stock is raised in open pens and crops are hand-har­vested when ripe. The re­al­ity is that mod­ern-day farms have had to over­haul op­er­a­tions to meet de­mand and re­main com­pet­i­tively priced while adapt­ing to the ever-chang­ing ways tech­nol­ogy in­fil­trates all parts of life. Each of these fac­tors present ob­sta­cles for to­day’s farm­ers.

Tech­nol­ogy

Ru­ral farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties are ex­pected to make an ef­fort to in­te­grate mod­ern tech­nol­ogy into an in­dus­try that has been around for cen­turies. But such a tran­si­tion in ru­ral ar­eas, where com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems may not be as up-to-date as those in ur­ban ar­eas, is not al­ways so easy.

Ac­cord­ing to the Man­i­toba Ru­ral Adap­ta­tion Coun­cil, a shift from a re­source-based to an in­for­ma­tion-based econ­omy, com­pounded by the rapid in­tro­duc­tion and ex­pan­sion of new tech­nol­ogy in the workplace, has al­tered farm oper­a­tion and the skills in de­mand. Older work­ers who have been schooled in one way of agri­cul­ture may have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on la­bor sup­ply and the vi­tal­ity of farm­ing as a ca­reer. Younger adults who are knowl­edge­able in tech­nol­ogy may no longer seek out agri­cul­tural ca­reers.

De­crease in farm­ing as an oc­cu­pa­tion

The United States En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency says that only about 960,000 Amer­i­cans claim farm­ing as their prin­ci­pal oc­cu­pa­tion. As that fig­ure has dwin­dled, the aver­age age of farm­ers continues to rise, as the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics notes that roughly 40 per­cent of the farm­ers in this coun­try are 55 years old or older. This has led to con­cerns about the long-term health of fam­ily farms through­out the United States.

En­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns

Many farm­ers have come un­der scru­tiny for how farm­ing im­pacts the en­vi­ron­ment. A grow­ing em­pha­sis on sus­tain­abil­ity and con­ser­va­tion has led many people to protest cer­tain farm­ing prac­tices. Pro­test­ers claim that cer­tain prac­tices, such as rais­ing live­stock, can pol­lute wa­ter, while the use of fer­til­iz­ers and chemical pes­ti­cides is bad for the en­vi­ron­ment. Many farm­ers, how­ever, have al­tered their meth­ods to be more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly and self-sus­tain­able in the process.

Fi­nan­cial fall-out

The on­go­ing re­ces­sion of the last half-decade has also af­fected farm­ers. In Novem­ber of 2012, the United States Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics in­di­cated that the un­em­ploy­ment rate within the agri­cul­ture, forestry, fish­ing and hunt­ing in­dus­tries was at 13.6 per­cent, far higher than the na­tional un­em­ploy­ment rate. As a re­sult, many farm fam­i­lies have found them­selves stuck be­tween a rock and a hard place, as ris­ing costs for equip­ment and tech­nol­ogy are be­ing cou­pled with de­creas­ing prof­its and ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment.

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is com­pe­ti­tion from cor­po­ra­tions and in­ter­na­tional food pro­duc­ers who have made it dif­fi­cult for fam­ily farm­ers to turn a sig­nif­i­cant profit. Many fam­ily farm­ers rely on loans and lines of credit to sur­vive, but thanks to changes in the fi­nan­cial sec­tor that saw banks be­come less will­ing to ex­tend lines of credit, some farm­ers are fac­ing bankruptcy.

Though it can be easy for those who do not work in the agri­cul­tural in­dus­try to over­look the strug­gles fac­ing to­day’s agri­cul­tural pro­fes­sion­als, a greater un­der­stand­ing of those strug­gles and the chal­lenges that lay ahead can ben­e­fit the in­dus­try and its em­ploy­ees down the road.

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