The average age of farmers in the 2002 Census was 55.3 years of age. The only other profession that is older is draw bridge operators! They aren’t building many draw bridges today and my guess is that being a draw bridge operator is a pretty cushy job that you don’t want to give up.
But farming? It is also one of the most dangerous professions with machinery accidents being the leading cause of the risk. Why would there be twice as many operators over the age of 75 than under 35 in such a profession?
Before I give you my take on it, let’s look at the data. In the 1974 Census there were 421,471 farmers (18.5% of the total) over the age of 65. Today there are 557,830 (26.2%). At the same time the number of those under 35 has declined from 292,092 (12.8%) down to 123,059 (5.8%).
I believe that farmers continue working far longer than they would in virtually every other profession because constantly improving mechanization and agronomic technology combined with the subsidies paid provide them with no incentive to stop.
The challenge for younger farmers is that subsidies are directly worked into the cost of their major asset…the land. And, typically at a much higher value than is justified economically. In today’s environment those subsidies are done at a price/earnings ratio of 16, so that a $100 subsidy per acre translates into a $1,600 increase in the price of land.
That higher land price and increasing cost of new technologies make the entry cost for new farmers prohibitive and act as a serious disincentive for new farmers to enter the profession.