The age of the average U.S. farmer is 58.3 years old, and rural populations are declining as a percentage of the national population, according to U.S. Census Data. To create a sustainable food system, we need to cultivate young farmers. Supporting beginning farmers needs to be a collaborative effort—one that connects young people with both financial and technical resources and provides the knowledge necessary to develop a successful business. New farmers also need sustainable funding and mutual partnerships with investors, which are increasingly found outside of traditional investment models.While this may be true, a more immediate problem for American farmers is the lack of labor--a byproduct of our broken immigration system. This was called out today by an article at AgWeb.com:
In the past 15 years, more than half of the hired workers on farms were unauthorized migrant workers, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Workers Survey. With a combination of stalled immigration reform debate in Congress, increased border control and an improved Mexican economy, the U.S. farm labor supply has been dwindling.This is obviously a serious issue and needs to be addressed. Farm labor is hard work and legal workers, including U.S. born workers, prefer to do almost anything else. Of course, you say, more people might be attracted to these jobs if they paid more. Yes, but then farmers would have to compete with cheaper imported food grown in countries where labor is cheaper--or--we could all pay more for our food. The President of the American Farm Bureau Federation proposes a two-step process of legalizing current workers (but with no path to citizenship) and then creating a new and hopefully workable guest-worker program. These are not new ideas, of course, and it seems unlikely that anything will be done until we reach some crisis point in American agriculture--maybe when all of the old farmers die off and no one is there to replace them?