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Who will replace the aging American farmer?

By By Todd Kunz, KIDK News Anchor
Published On: May 06 2013 11:10:06 PM CDT
Updated On: May 07 2013 11:20:23 AM CDT

The average age of the American farmer is 62 according to USDA. What does the future hold for farming? Are younger students even interested?

REXBURG, Idaho -

High school graduation is coming up soon. Many of our seniors will be moving on, but to what? Are today's grads even involved in farming during high school enough to take it to the next level? Because when our current farmers retire or slowly die off, the younger ones better be there to replace them or you know what this will mean for the price of our food.

Recent census data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the average age for a farmer in the United States is 62. So what does this mean for the future of farming in the U.S. as that number slowly increases? Are fewer young people wanting to be a farmer? What better place to find that answer, than to talk to Sarah Simone Clawson, president of the Future Farmers of America at Madison High School.

"Those men that are still farming, odds are they will farm the rest of their days or until their health will not let them, just because, to them, that is who they are. However, the government is making it so those small-time farms cannot survive in this economy and because of that, that's what concerns me," said Clawson.

Born and raised in Rexburg, Clawson has been around farming and ranching her whole life. So it's no surprise she wants to be a medical veternarian and sees the value for society, when it comes to our food.

"Not so much a disinterest in it, however, a newer form of farming," said Clawson, when asked what she is seeing from others around her.

Instructors in this program, said one of the key elements for the future of agriculture will be doing more with less space or increasing your yield. Kelsey Broadie is one of three vo-ag instructors at Madision High. She said research and the biotechnology of agriculture are two big areas of focus, but added overcoming the high school stereotype of a farmer is a key place to start with students.

So how does she get them interested?

"We are introducing to them a lot of different avenues that they can take to get invovled with agriculture, and I guess by doing that, we're hoping to get them interested in the general industry of agriculture," said Broadie.

Jason Bair is the department head. He teaches some of those classes beyond agriculture to hopefully spark that interest, classes in wildlife, natural resources, and aquaculture science.

"You know, it allows the kids to go out and participate with the Fish and Game, some real people in the industry that they can rub shoulders with and talk to them about their career. I just think the more opportunities we give kids, a broader spectrum, to kind of show them everything that's going on, I think they are going to have a better chance of figuring out what they want to do," said Bair.

Broadie said the future of farming in our youths looks bright, and she credits the FFA organization.

"It's really preparing kids for the future, whether it's actually going out and farming or whether it's going and being a politician and fighting for agricultural rights, which we really need. So it's very bright. A lot of scholarship opportunities for kids when they get involved in it," said Broadie.

"Don't expect it to be easy, but expect it to be worth it," said Clawson.

Many schools in southeastern Idaho have exceptional FFA programs. Snake River School District, for example, is starting a summer school crop science class, where they will grow potatoes and wheat. Students will be enrolled to test soil, fertilizer, water, and other samples for high school science credit.

The Madison High Vo-ag and FFA are selling their bedding plants Friday, May 10 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, May 11 from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. Go to the west side of the high school.

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