The majority of farm operators are nearing retirement and leaving the field at a time when average farm income has declined by nearly half over the past five years and land prices in many areas have risen beyond what a working farmers can afford. The land that these farmers steward and the knowledge they carry is at risk of being lost from farming forever. Young farmers are stepping up and looking to take on leadership responsibility in their communities, but they face significant obstacles to success. In Pennsylvania, we have an opportunity to confront the challenges facing this young generation and to invest in the future of the Commonwealth’s agricultural economy and farming communities.
Reflecting national trends, the average age of farmers is rising in Pennsylvania. The 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture reported that the average age of principal operators in Pennsylvania was 56.5 years, up from 52.4 in the 1997 Census. The trend of farmers aging in Pennsylvania was particularly steep in the decade between the 2002 and 2012 Censuses, when the number of principal operators under 35 years old decreased by 277, while the number of principal operators 65 and older increased by 3,909. While the 2017 census showed a small uptick in the number of primary producers under 35 in Pennsylvania, this increase is not nearly enough to replace those aging out and retiring. There remains a critical need to support young farmers in Pennsylvania.
Thank you to The Heinz Endowments for generously supporting this work.