A new generation could reverse the decline in farmers


Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden came to the Triangle this week to encourage young people to consider a future in farming. But Harden picked an unlikely place to seek prospects – Duke University.

It would seem that students paying top dollar at an elite university aren’t the types who plan to make a living on a tractor. But for Harden the disconnect was deliberate. The United States faces a shortage of young farmers, and the USDA is pitching the appeal and rewards of farming to young people who might have never considered farming as a career.

“We talk to ourselves a lot in agriculture, but we’ve got to get the message to others,” Harden, the daughter of Georgia peanut farmers, said during a meeting with News & Observer editors.

In a nation where 1 percent of the population produces the food for the other 99 percent, the number of farmers can hardly afford to shrink, but the trend line is ominous. For each farmer under 35 there are six over 65, according to a report from the National Young Farmers Coalition.

That trend could be reversed by a rising interest in organic and urban farming among young people. USDA is also helping veterans and immigrants working in agriculture become farm owners.

When young people stop to think about farming, Harden said, some see the appeal of working with nature.

“The land heals. The land can be a wonderful friend, and it can be a rewarding career,” she said.