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Lack of young farmers has organizations stepping in to raise awareness

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Posted at 1:58 PM, Apr 04, 2023

WACO, Texas — The average age of an American farmer is about 60-years-old, according to the USDA.

As that population continues to get older, there are even fewer young people joining the industry to take over those roles.

There are a lot of risks that are associated with starting up a farm.

For Slayton Hoelscher, a first-generation farmer, those risks taken years ago have now paid off.

He got his start about eleven years ago when his parents bought some land in San Angelo.

"I started with 150 acres and just kind of slowly been growing ever since," he said.

"I got a lot of opportunities with farmers retiring or liking the practices or ways I was farming, having a new outlook on it and new technology."

He now owns more than 6,000 acres across the state.

He and his family grows cotton, wheat, milo, corn and hay.

He said he absolutely loves it.

"We love doing it so it's not even a job," Hoelscher said. "Once you get a shovel in your hand, that's when it becomes work."

While being a first-generation farmer worked out well for Hoelscher, he said he understands why some young people are hesitant to consider it.

"It's all the regulations we have to go through, and water rights we're fighting for, land price increase, technology," he said.

"When I started 11 years ago, we were using conventional cotton stripers. I think I bought mine for $40,000. If I wanted to buy a new one today, it's close to a million dollars."

Getting started as a farmer can add up quickly.

It's expensive and risky and groups like the Young Farmers of Texas told 25 News fewer people are willing to give it a try.

"The average age of our members has steadily gone up and I don't foresee that changing unless we make big changes in how we handle things," Sandra Choate, Executive Secretary for YFT, said.

Even people who grew up on farms seem to be stepping away as they head to college and more developed areas.

"It's a lot of hard work and I just don't think our kids, our children are as dedicated to coming back because we introduced them to new things," Choate said.

"It's not that they don't love it, but there are new things they're introduced to."

As the pool of farmers not only in Texas but across the country continues to shrink, what can we do to ensure we still have a way to grow our food?

According to the American Farm Bureau Young Farmer Rancher Chair Matt Fimon, it's all about targeting young people and showing them a path to make it possible.

"The average age of a farmer these days, they need people to take it on and to help within their operations so can we start that partnership? Can we start it there?" he said.

"Then maybe if that farmer doesn't have someone to take it on later, we made that match and now that can be the person to slowly take on that operation."

"We're all looking for help and can't find it," Hoelscher said.

"If someone is really wanting to get involved, I would love some young guys to come and help me and we can pay very competitively but I can't get anyone."

Hoelscher said it's also important for people to have realistic expectations about starting out.

"Start small and work your way up, be efficient," he added.

"And like I always tell people when they ask what's the best thing to get where you're going? The best advice I can give is you got to get up in the morning. Get up and work."

Farm organizations are using groups like the FFA to teach young people what farming is really about and show them different opportunities in their area.