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
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
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.
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
Heller is passionate about agriculture and its
“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
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at AgNews_Doran.