WASHINGTON, May 4, 2016 - Almost 30 percent of farmers in New England are likely to leave the agriculture sector in the next 10 to 20 years, and almost none of them have a young farmer in line to take over their operations, according to a study released by the American Farmland Trust (AFT) and Land For Good last week.
More than 90 percent of New England’s 10,400 senior farmers don’t have a farm operator under the age of 45 working with them, the study found. And “while this does not mean that these farmers don’t have a succession plan, it suggests that the future of many of these farms is uncertain,” AFT said in a release.
“It was a real wake-up call to see how few farmers age 65 plus have a next generation working on the farm with them,” said Cris Coffin, policy director for Land For Good (LFG). “How and to whom this land and farm infrastructure transfers will have an enormous impact on the future of farming in New England.”
AFT and LFG used USDA Ag Census data for the years 2002, 2007 and 2012 to identify characteristics of retiring and beginning farmers in New York and the six New England states. The groups also conducted focus groups with older farmers that self-identified as having no farm successor.
Focus participants indicated that they wanted their farms to remain in production, but said “financing and future economic viability for younger farmers (w)as an obstacle” to that, and also requested help in choosing “the right succession strategy and finding a suitable successor,” the authors reported.
“The 1.4 million acres (that these older farmers) manage and $6.45 billion in land and agricultural infrastructure they own will change hands in one way or another,” Coffin said. “To keep this land and infrastructure in farming as it transitions, we will need better policy tools and increased support services to exiting and entering farmers.”
The study also found that beginning farmers in New England weren’t exactly young – 62 percent were 45 or older. In 2012, these older beginning farmers farm slightly less acreage than younger beginning farmers (63 acres compared to 73), generated less in agricultural sales ($23,000 compared to $37,000), and had lower average net farm incomes ($7,000 compared to $5,000).
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