Kris Heller of Mattoon, Ill., is among those students who plan to return to the family farm after earning a degree. Heller, a University of Illinois junior at the Department of Crop Sciences, checks a corn plot during the recent Agronomy Day at South Farm.
Kris Heller of Mattoon, Ill., is among those students who plan to return to the family farm after earning a degree. Heller, a University of Illinois junior at the Department of Crop Sciences, checks a corn plot during the recent Agronomy Day at South Farm.
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Kris Heller learned the importance of farming as a youngster and looks forward to returning to the family farm after earning his degree at the University of Illinois.

Heller, of Mattoon, is a junior in the Department of Crop Science with a concentration on agriculture business and is aiming at a minor in food and farm management.

He is among the handful of students who hope to continue to farming, bucking a lengthy trend of older farmers.

The average age of farm operators stayed relatively steady for decades, ranging between 48 in 1954 to just over 50 by the late 1970s.

That trend changed after the farm crisis of the early 1980s, when a weak economy and low commodity prices combined with high land prices and interest rates began to alter the face of American agriculture.

Over the last three decades, the average age of U.S. farmer has spiraled upward by nearly eight years as the next generation leaves the family farm for other careers. The average age rose from 57.1 to 58.3 from the 2007 to the 2012 ag surveys.

But it’s not all gloom and doom for the future of agriculture as technological advancements ease the chores of what once was a labor-intensive occupation, and the next generation is stepping up to the plate.

Heller’s mom’s family farms in Livingston and Ford counties, where they grow corn, soybeans and wheat on their mid-sized farm.

“I’ve always enjoyed being on the farm, working outside and doing those types of things. I hope with my degree to open up other opportunities, as well, while I’m on the farm and present me with opportunities to do other things, as well as help my uncle,” he said.

No Regrets

Heller is pleased with attending U of I and said he would have regretted it if he weren’t there.

“I’m glad I’m here and glad I decided to come to school. I think it will pay off as many opportunities as I’ve already seen presented to me, and I still have two years yet,” he said.

Heller was asked about the aging farmer population and his decision to buck the trend and return to farming.

“I talked to a lot of kids who seem to lose their interest. Grandpa had something and they just go their own way, and I don’t know what that trend is from, if it’s from the technology to make it easier for the older generation to continue going or what,” he said.

“It’s kind of neat and I have some friends I met at school that are going to do the same thing and plan on going back to the farm.

“It will be fun as I get older to have a group of friends here from school that are all on the farm and will be the younger of farmers.”

Heller is passionate about agriculture and its future.

“The value of farming will keep getting more important as the number of people in the world continues to increase and we’re losing farm ground,” he said.

“You can’t make any more farm ground. I feel very blessed that my family has been involved with agriculture and that we have some ground. I think those people who have ground in the family or own ground are going to realize that more as it becomes more of a valued and scarce resource.”


Tom C. Doran can be reached at 309-828-1432 or tdoran@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow him on Twitter at AgNews_Doran.