Oklahoma Looks For Next Generation Of Agriculture As Farmers Age

Friday, February 21st 2014, 5:00 pm
By: Craig Day

A new USDA report shows fewer people are farming for a living in Oklahoma and the average age of farmers is getting older.

With each passing year, soybean and wheat farmer Karl Skalnik sees fewer people in the profession he's loved for more than a half century.

"There's a lifestyle that can't be replaced by some other job other than farming," Skalnik said.

But fewer people in Oklahoma are choosing that lifestyle.

The USDA shows in a five year span from 2007 to 2012, the number of farms in Oklahoma dropped from about 86,000 farms to about 80,000.

"Takes a great deal of capital and a great deal of debt usually for families to become full-time farmers," Skalnik said.

Skalnik said part of the reason there are fewer farms and farmers is because there aren't many young people going into the profession.

The USDA says Oklahoma has only 436 farmers under the age of 25.

With land and equipment costs, Skalnik said one of the only options for many people wanting to go into farming is to inherit land and equipment.

"It's been a family farm for 100 years, and the younger farmers can step in and operate without a heavy debt load," Skalnik said.

The majority of farmers in our state are over the age of 55, and the average age is getting older at 58.

Skalnik hopes the trend of fewer farms and fewer farmers doesn't continue.

"We're just going to have big corporate farms, which we already have," "The doctors and lawyers are going to own the farms and guys like me are going to operate them for them."

At 76 years old and still farming, Skalnik would love to see more young people get into agriculture, but realizes the economic realities make it tough.

"Farming is a place for hard work and hard times sometimes, but it's very satisfying to grow food for people and to see crops grow and thrive," he said.

While overall there are fewer Oklahomans farming, the USDA statistics show growth in the number of American Indian and black farmers in our state.