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Agriculture & Natural Resources: Keeping farmers on the farm

This past week, I had the opportunity to talk with fellow citizens of our community to help identify what the biggest issues are facing Woodford County today. You can imagine the list we came up with - everything from housing, jobs, drugs, the list went on. One item we spent some time on was how we can keep this rural landscape that we enjoy every day. How can we encourage young farmers to invest in our rural heritage and keep land for farming?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for that. A farmer is an entrepreneur just like any other business owner, but will often wrangle with a lot of other problems that many other small business owners may not. With the expansion of trade and global markets, what may happen in China or Brazil today can impact what happens to the farmer here. Weather, markets, input prices, transportation, technology, the stock market, foreign trade policies, consumer demand, governmental regulations, and labor are just a few of the issues that face each and every farmer every day.

Just a couple hours after discussing this with our friends and neighbors, I happened to read an article published by The Wall Street Journal titled “To Stay on the Land, American Farmers Add Extra Jobs.” This article revealed something that we rarely discuss outside of some agriculture circles - farmers are being forced to find off-farm income from second (or third) jobs to keep their family farm afloat. I found it quite interesting that a paper that focuses on the mainstream financial market is now looking at the agricultural sector.

The article notes that an estimated 82 percent of U.S. farm household income is expected to come from off-farm work this year. With depressed commodity prices, elevated input costs, and a global market to compete with, farmers are operating on razor-thin margins.

Some agriculture economists advise producers that they may have two options to survive this fast-paced, ever-changing agriculture economy; increase productivity and decrease inputs by using up-to-date technologies; or earn a premium for your product by “branding” what you produce; or doing something innovative and out-of-the-box.

Either way, USDA is reporting that farm income will continue to drop even more over the next 10 years. President, John F. Kennedy Jr., was quoted saying, “The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” For more information or to discuss this issue further, give me a call at the Woodford County Cooperative Extension Service at 873-4601.

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