I recently posted a couple of articles on LinkedIn that got more than the usual amount of attention. Both were highlighting data from the most recent USDA Census of Agriculture that tallied the fewest farmers since 1850 and also indicated that few young people are signing up to be a farmer. At least some of the reason we have such old farmers is that many hang on, hoping someone in the family will want to take over.

Farm Income Is Expected to Drop

Then I saw articles from other sources, documenting about how farm income is expected to drop 25% this year. I didn’t read the articles very closely because I was unable to verify the authenticity of the writers (ChatGPT anyone?). But I did verify on the USDA website that net farm income is indeed dropping.

The USDA website also points out that 2022 boasted the highest ever net income on the farm. And then it went down 17.4% in 2023. The numbers are expected to drop an additional 25.8% from this year. So, this year, farm families can expect on about two-thirds of the money they lived on in 2022. Hmmm… I think these two facts could somehow be related, or correlated, as we say in research speak.

When agriculture was humming and profitable a few years ago, kids came back to the farm in droves. There was a resurgence! But money rules the world. Even if we don’t want it to. 

Land Prices Are Being Driven Up by Corporations

Big organizations and corporations are buying up land, driving up the prices of just about everything. I saw in Iowa that a piece of land sold for $29,600 an acre. I remember when we thought $10,000 an acre was just about crazy. Some farmers tell me that organizations are buying because they want to “preserve” farmland, but all that does is create shortages of available land and drive up rental prices.

In the meantime, farm equipment has gotten so large and sophisticated that a regular combine is well over $600,000 and a good-sized one probably tops a million dollars. All this expense for a machine that is used 300 to 600 hours per year. These realities are causing a great deal of anxiety for most farmers.

Famers Deal with a Lot of Stress

Most people can’t stand a lot of stress. Farming is full of it. Farmers are some of the best people I’ve seen at understanding what they can and can’t control, and letting go of the past, good or bad. They can remember every season like the back of their hand but still have somehow gotten to the stage of acceptance. Some tell me they would have a heart attack otherwise.

Running a business is rarely easy. I just googled a source that said 90% of startups fail and 20% fail in the first year. Many farms in America have been going for 100 years or more. I did a study one time and I think the average was 85 years.

My grandfather filed for homestead in 1911 in northern Minnesota; my brother, who still farms and lives on the homestead, is 74. That’s pretty good – 113 years. But he has no one to take over and it’s sad that there will soon be no Hagen Farms.

Farmers Are an Endangered Species

In 1850, the last year we had this few farmers, the average farm size was 160 acres (homestead for free from the government), and 25 to 40 of those acres were cultivated. In Iowa (courtesy of Living History Farms) the main crops were corn, wheat, and potatoes. Shorthorn was the most popular breed of cattle because they were good to eat, good to milk, and made good oxen. Chickens were good to eat and made eggs. The average farm family fed itself and made a little money (maybe).

Today, on average, one farmer feeds 155 people. Productivity throughout is amazing. But it’s also expensive and stressful, even with a great attitude. And income varies… a lot. Until farming becomes as easy and lucrative as coding, I think we are going to see many of these trends continue for farmers.

So go out today and show some appreciation for every farmer you see. They are becoming increasingly rare.

If you enjoyed Farmers Are an Endangered Species, please read:

What would you to do survive? Farmers are sharing.

Where Are the Young Producers?

The 7 Saddest Words in Farming

The 2024 Farmer Speaks Is Now Available

JL Farmakis Farmer Speaks research

To request a copy of the 2024 Farmer Speaks report research study, contact your
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