Oklahoma's Agriculture Industry Faces Need For Younger Farmers

Tuesday, June 12th 2012, 7:06 pm
By: News On 6

As the U.S. Senate begins debate on a new farm bill, the American farmer is growing older.

The average age is 57.

Young organic farmers say their careers aren't dying, but the industry is changing.

In rural Oaks, you'll find a 6-acre produce aisle of organic fruits and vegetables.

Emily Oakley and her partner, Mike Appel are the two-person operation behind Three Springs Farms.

"The more we thought about it we were like, wait, we don't want to talk to farmers, we want to be farmers," Emily Oakley said. "It is quite different than the farmers our parents and grandparents generation grew up with."

The two keep it small and local. They only sell the fruits of their labor at farmer's markets. They get back to farming's roots. No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

And they are young.

"I'm 34," Emily said. "So I'm on the cusp of a young farmer."

The fastest-growing segment of farmers is 65 years and older. Emily says farming is hard work and more of a labor of love. A bad year weather-wise can be catastrophic for profit.

"We are losing our farmers," Emily said. "I'm not going to lie and say kids in kindergarten are raising their hands saying they want to be farmers."

She says it can be disheartening when smaller farmers don't receive government subsidies which can repel future farmers, especially while major commodities like corn and wheat thrive.

"We are actually competing, and an unfair advantage with, actually, soda pop, because that has corn in it. Corn syrup -- which is subsidized by the government," Emily said.

The 2012 Farm Bill could change that by allocating money toward developing micro-farms.

"We don't need to expand," Emily said. "The answer isn't for us to get bigger. The answer is for there to be more farmers like us."

Advocates are calling for $125 million in dedicated funding for beginning farmer and rancher development programs.

It's incentive to grow and nurture the next generation.

The farm bill being debated right now supports farmer training programs for aspiring young farmers like Emily and Mike Oakley.