COLUMBUS, Ohio — Concerns over an aging farmer population
may be overstated, according to an agricultural economist’s analysis.
Carl Zulauf, an economist with Ohio State University’s
College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said that although
some farm communities worry over a lack of new, younger farmers to replace the
current population, farmers and the overall U.S. labor force are gaining at a
Using U.S. Department of Agriculture census data from 1945
to 2007, as well as data from the U.S. Department of Labor from 1980 to 2010,
Zulauf compared the average age of farmers with the average age of the labor
His research shows that while on average farmers are older
than the labor force, the farmers and the labor force actually are aging at a
similar pace — and, in fact, farmers are aging somewhat more slowly.
As of the 2007, the latest Census of Agriculture, U.S.
farmers averaged 57.1 years.
Average age was first reported for the 1945 Census of
Agriculture at 48.7 years. Thus, over this 62-year span, the average age of U.S.
farmers has increased 8.4 years, or 17 percent.
Of particular note, Zulauf said, the share of farmers age 65
and older has increased from 14 percent in 1945 to 30 percent in 2007.
The only notable decline in average age occurred during the
mid- to late-1970s. It is reasonable to speculate that this decline in average
age occurred as a result of the farm prosperity boom of the 1970s, according to
Median age of the U.S. labor force was found for 1980, 1990,
2000 and 2010. These years are paired with the nearest agriculture census year.
The 2007 average age of farmers exceeded the 2010 median age
of the labor force by 15.4 years.
This difference has not changed much since 1980, implying
that farmers and the labor force are aging in concert — if anything, farmers are
aging somewhat slower.
However, it is worth noting that in 2010, only 4 percent of
the U.S. labor force was 65 or older.
“U.S. farmers are aging, but their aging mirrors the U.S.
labor force. The U.S. farmer population is older than the U.S. labor force, but
this has been true since 1980 and likely much earlier,” Zulauf said.
“The older age of farmers is consistent with farming being
capital intensive. It takes time for someone to accumulate the capital necessary
to compete in U.S.-style farming, either through inheritance or savings or both.
“While much is written about the need to replace the aging
U.S. farmer population, the 1970 period of farm prosperity suggests the current
period of prosperity will lead to an influx of younger farmers, sons and
daughters of existing farmers and from non-farm backgrounds.
“This influx will likely occur over a number of years, and
its magnitude will depend on the staying power of the current farm prosperity.
In short, putting the age of farmers in perspective suggests the U.S. will
likely have little problem replacing its aging farmer population.”