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Fewer farmers working to grow food for more Americans By Paul Pugliese

In the near future, there will be a major shift in American agriculture as family farms are passed on to the next generation. Jobs in agriculture are waiting to be filled by young people. The average age of the American farmer is 58-years-old. Nationally, the fastest-growing group of farmers and ranchers is the segment over 65.

More than 317,000,000 people live in the United States, and less than 1 percent are farmers. As the number of farmers declines, the demand for agricultural products increases with a growing world population of more than 7 billion people. Experts predict the world will require 70 percent more food production by the year 2050. Today's farmer feeds about 155 people on average.

Ag no. 1 in Georgia

Even with fewer farmers, agriculture is still the largest industry in Georgia and contributes more than $71.1 billion annually to the state’s economy. Today, one in seven Georgians works in agriculture, forestry or a related field.

Because farmers choose to farm, the rest of us can be doctors and lawyers, teachers and politicians, factory workers and engineers, and even University of Georgia county Extension agents. We can be who we are because farmers feed us. If you're a baby boomer or younger, you weren't around in the “old days” when life was structured around growing, harvesting, preserving and preparing food. A hundred years ago, one farmer could feed only five other people. Most folks had to grow their own food.

Modern technology has made farmers became more efficient. Farmers are able to to produce more food on less land, and today’s farmers are generally not as dependent on their own production efforts for putting food on their table. The vast majority of farms in this country (87 percent) are owned and operated by individuals or families. I grew up on a family-owned farm, and I look forward to being able to succeed my father.

Because farm budgets and household budgets tend to intersect in these smaller farms, many farmers have to work a second job (in town) to keep their household income stable. This makes today’s farmer even more admirable for keeping food on all of our tables.

About 98 percent of Americans are liberated from working the soil, and that makes it easy to forget how dependent we are on our farmers for food. People today have more free time to enjoy things like traveling, higher education, sports and leisure activities. Some might argue this has both good and bad consequences. However, we all should remember this “free time” is a privilege and not just an opportunity to be sedentary in front of technological gadgets, games and other devices.

This holiday season, I encourage you to take your family outdoors to experience local farm life and experience nature. The best way to thank your local farmers is to give them your support and your business. Go outdoors and enjoy the nice fall weather, maybe cut your own Christmas tree and make a memory doing so or enjoy some farm-related recreation activities like horseback riding, hayrides, corn mazes, cookouts and bonfires.

Attend an Ag Forecast event

And, to learn more about the Georgia farmers who grow food and fiber in our state, attend one of the up-coming Georgia Ag Forecast events set for Jan. 24-31 in Athens, Bainbridge, Cartersville, Lyons, Macon and Tifton. For more information, see www.georgiaagforecast.com.

It's important that every American knows how blessed we are to have the best farmers in the world working hard to grow and deliver the safest, most abundant food supply in the world. So this holiday season, enjoy your family dinners and appreciate those who made it possible: American farmers.

(Paul Pugliese is the agriculture & natural resources agent for the University of Georgia Extension office in Bartow County.)

Georgia farmer
Georgia farmer

Fewer people are choosing to become farmers so less farmers are expected to grow food for an ever growing population.

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Fewer people are choosing to become farmers so less farmers are expected to grow food for an ever growing population. Download Image
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