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Published October 28, 2013, 10:33 AM

A fresh crop of farmers

Agriculture on the Northern Plains is receiving an infusion of young blood.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Once, not that long ago, it was one of the biggest concerns of agriculturalists on the Northern Plains:

Our farmers are graying. (Their average age nationwide was 57 in 2007, the last year for which U.S. Department of Agriculture data is available.) Will we find their successors?

It’s still a concern, but a diminishing one. As everyone familiar with ag in this part of the world knows, new faces are increasingly common. You see them at farm shows, at grain elevators, on the boards of commodity groups: folks in their 20s and early 30s, almost always farming with their father or another close relative.

There’s no mystery about what’s responsible. Production ag has enjoyed a tremendous run; farmers have made a lot of money in recent years. Young, would-be farmers see there’s enough profit to support themselves and their families. A decade ago, that wasn’t the case. Now it is, and a new generation of farmers has responded.

The newcomers are bright, educated and comfortable with technology. They’re quick to use cutting-edge tools, and they’ll make production ag more innovative than ever.

Their biggest challenge, I suspect, is not being influenced too much by this great run of prosperity. Production agriculture is cyclical — always has been, always will be — and rough economic stretches inevitably are ahead.

New farmers realize the good times won’t last; they’re too smart and knowledgeable to think otherwise. But as a veteran farmer once told me, “You can’t really understand tough times until you live through some.”

Not only farmers

Until recently, an aging workforce was a huge concern throughout agriculture. A lot of extension service agents, agronomists and grain elevator employees, among others, were pushing retirement. Replacements were needed.

Now, young faces are increasingly common in these occupations, too. The newcomers bring their own skills and perspectives. They’ll do their part to shape the future of agriculture.

Call it what you will — a generational turn, the passing of the torch — the change is healthy and necessary.

To all the newcomers in ag, whatever your position, I ask this: Be willing to work with the ag news media. Sure, I have a personal stake in that. But you do, too. Agriculture’s story is your story, and ag journalists need your help to tell it.

Simple, not easy

If you enjoy words, as I do, you appreciate the difference between “simple” and “easy.” Something that’s simple may not be easy, and vice versa.

At its heart, farming is simple. You raise crops and livestock and try to sell them at a profit.

But farming is seldom easy. Weather or prices, or both, usually work against you, and profit can be elusive, even impossible.

The new generation has different challenges and opportunities than its predecessors. What hasn’t changed —what will never change — is the necessity of turning a profit.

I have no idea if the new farmers will be more successful than their parents and grandparents. But this much I do know:

The long-awaited fresh crop of farmers has finally taken root.

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