The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 6, 2012

Who will feed US?


Martyn, and others like her, are getting help in changing careers from an apprenticeship program paid for by the USDA, which began giving money in 2009 to universities and nonprofit groups that help train beginning farmers. The grants helped train about 5,000 people the first year.

This year, the USDA estimates even more people will benefit from the program.

While fresh demographic information on U.S. farmers won't be available until after the next agricultural census is done next year, there are signs that more people in their 20s and 30s are going into farming: Enrollment in university agriculture programs has increased, as has interest in farmer-training programs, according to USDA.

The young entrepreneurs typically cite two reasons for going into farming: Many find the corporate world stifling and see no point in sticking it out when there's little job security; and demand for locally grown and organic foods has been strong enough that even in the downturn they feel they can sell their products.

The question of where the next generation of farmers will come from is always on the minds of those closely involved with agriculture, said Mark O'Neill, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, based in Camp Hill.

"The bureau is very involved in promoting efforts that encourage young adults to pursue careers in farming and other agriculture-related occupations," O'Neill said Thursday. "Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has a state Young Farmer and Rancher (YF&R) Committee, while county Farm Bureaus also have YF&R committees."

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has organized Collegiate Farm Bureaus at Penn State and Delaware Valley College.

"These college students are highly motivated and are interested in pursuing some form of a career in agriculture, including working on a farm or in a wide variety of agriculture-related businesses or in agriculture research," O'Neill continued. "The Farm Bureau is also a strong supporter of FFA and 4-H programs, which encourages youngsters to learn about raising animals, growing crops and environmental impacts of farming. We are advocates of programs that encourage agriculture education in high schools across the commonwealth."

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