Birthdays are funny things. When I was young, they were
right up there with Christmas, but not just because of the party and the
presents. I just couldn’t wait to get older.
I wanted to do things that I wasn’t able to at the time,
like go to junior high, drive a car, have a girlfriend, be charged as an
Then somewhere down Lifeline Highway, birthdays became less
important. First, they became nuisances. Before long, they were even dreaded.
My birthday was persona non grata. I didn’t want to hang
around with it. I didn’t want to go to dinner with it.
I didn’t want to shake its hand. I would have filed an order
of protection against my birthday if I could have.
Frankly, birthdays became unwelcome reminders of my
advancing years. It was painful to be officially reminded that my hair was
thinning, my belly was expanding and my skin was wrinkling.
After all, I was reminded of all that every morning when I
looked in that cruel, but honest bathroom mirror.
We have all wondered at the odd perception that time seems
to be compressed as we age. We think: “That was 10 years ago? It sure doesn’t
seem that long ago.”
I once heard a scientific explanation for that sensation,
and it makes sense. When you’re 10 years old, two years is 20 percent of your
life. When you’re 50, two years equals only 4 percent of your life.
Still, science doesn’t usually take residence in my brain,
so it just seems like time goes by so much faster nowadays.
I am, however, moving into a new level in the birthday
journey. While not embracing birthdays, I am beginning to accept them. Maybe
even more than accept.
I believe I’m ready to welcome birthdays again. Why, you
ask? Because birthdays mean life is continuing.
I’ve also passed a milestone of sorts. Though I’m not a
farmer, I’m now officially older than the average farmer.
It’s amazing to me that while many in their late 50s are
looking ahead to retirement, most 50-, 60- and 70-something farmers are plugging
right along. Of course, retirement is a foreign concept to most farmers, who
consider their vocation a way of life, not just work.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, among others,
recently expressed concern about not only the average age of farmers in America
— which is at 57 — but the difficulty of young people getting into production
Recent surveys show that there has been a 30 percent
increase in the number of farmers over the age of 75 and a 20 percent decrease
in the number of farmers under the age of 25.
There are no easy solutions to this problem. But we in
agriculture must work on reversing this trend.
Programs aimed at developing new farmers are encouraging,
but many of those starting small are reaching out to niche markets, such as
organic vegetables and small beef herds. Nothing wrong with any of that, but the
fact remains that the majority of farmland today is devoted to corn, soybeans,
wheat and cotton.
And those farms, on average, are growing in size. That means
huge start-up costs.
The path to a career in production has long been through the
family. But while many sons and daughters still follow their parents’ footsteps,
many others are staying in agriculture, but pursuing careers in the world of
That trend appears to be continuing. But there inevitably
will be a point where there won’t be enough people raising crops to be served by
those in agribusiness. It’s time to look at reversing the trend.
But don’t ask me to provide an answer. I’m busy calculating
my Social Security benefits.