The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 6, 2012

Who will feed US?


If farming is beginning to sound like an appealing career, there are downsides, to be sure.

The work involves tough physical labor, and vacations create problems when there are crops to be harvested and cows to be milked.

Many farmers need second jobs to get health insurance or make ends meet.

And three-fifths of farms have sales of less than $10,000 a year, although some may be growing fruit trees or other crops that take a few years to develop.

Certainly, there are many reasons why young people decide not to pursue careers in farming, even if they were born and raised on a farm, O'Neill conceded. "Many don't want to deal with low profit margins, excessive regulations and long hours with physically demanding work. Farm children know how their parents have struggled over the years to remain economically viable. They also recognize how costly regulations limit or prohibit their ability to expand or change operations in order to become more profitable."

Land costs hurt

Meanwhile, the cost to rent land or purchase a farm, even from a family member, can be staggering for a young adult. Even if parents are offering a major family discount or are willing to work with children on terms of a future sale, the farm transition process is often not an easy one.

"The younger generation wants assurances that they will be able to take advantage of new advancements in research and technology in order to meet the public's demand for agriculture items," O'Neill said. "They are not looking for guarantees that they'll be profitable, but they want to make sure that policies and regulators are not created that will make it impossible for them to make a living."

A big obstacle for the future of farming occurs when children of farmers graduate from college and want to return to work on the home farm, but unless the operation expands, how will the farm generate enough income to support an additional family or families.

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